We bring you excerpts of the interview with Ambassador Sorensen that was published by FENA news agency.
1. How do you assess your mandate and can you briefly summarize the results of your work in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Given the range and depth of the work the EU does here, it’s about the whole team and not me alone. I have a great, dedicated team working with me in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The reorganisation of the EU offices here back in 2011 brought all the people working for the EU together. As a team I think we have been able to get big projects on the road and make them a success together with our Bosnia and Herzegovina partners – I think particularly of the Census, and of our project to help improve law enforcement agencies’ work.
The EU is the biggest source of financial assistance to this country and my office is implementing it. Since September 2011, I have signed 422 contracts for projects worth just under 300 million Euro in total; 202 contracts totalling nearly 231 million Euro are currently under implementation.
We have developed a very clear and very comprehensive communication between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Brussels, with a much clearer understanding here in the country of what the path to the EU really looks like. You know better what getting to the EU involves, and I think we are working with the situation and specificities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And more generally the EU has been present around the country through our meetings, our offices in the regions, our public events and outreach. All of which is to say that there is a real partnership evolving between BiH and the EU. There is a good development under way. That stronger partnership is a success.
Obviously, we all hoped that Bosnia and Herzegovina would be further on in the EU integration process than it is. But it takes two to tango!
2. Which impressions will you take with you of people in BiH and BiH in general?
The greatest impression is of the talented people I have met – especially the young people. I find it a real tragedy that so many people either leave the country or have ambitions to do so. Too much talent is thrown away.
It’s a beautiful country. I have travelled extensively around Bosnia and Herzegovina – with municipal tours, meetings, visiting EU projects and of course in my leisure time with my family. I think there are very few places I haven’t been!
I have had really memorable encounters with people – the young guy in the company who tells me to focus on jobs, the grandmother who encouraged me to keep on doing what we’re doing. Those sorts of voices and opinions are important and help you to remember what the real priorities are.
3. With which politicians in BiH you have had the best cooperation?
The EU approach now and in the future is that we have an open door for everyone who wants to work with us in good faith. That means I am not going to make a ‘top list’ now!
When you do like somewhere as I like BiH, it is of course important not to let your feelings get in the way of doing a correct job. I certainly have strived to be correct, and do what I believed professionally was best for BiH, and the majority of my interlocutors I think have done the same.
I would like to thank the many civil servants and officials who have done diligent and often unappreciated work away from the TV cameras. There are many people at all levels who care about BiH and who work every day to try and take the country forward.
4. At what accomplishments of your mandate in BiH are you particularly proud of?
There’s been a wide range of issues coming over the desk in the past three years. However, following the devastating floods that hit the country in May, our office has put a great deal of effort into dealing with the emergency and the aftermath.
The European Union of course responded immediately through the Civil Protection Mechanism. It was in fact the largest operation since the creation of the Mechanism with 3,000 people rescued and 23 EU Member States offering assistance including motor boats, firefighters, helicopters, pumps and a lot more. Approximately 800 relief workers were deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia during the emergency operations.
Now we are implementing the EU programme for flood recovery worth 42 million Euro and I am very pleased with how it is going – and how fast it is going. The programme will rehabilitate 4,000 dwellings – for approximately 14,000 people – 100 local roads and bridges, 90 educational institutions, 10 water and sanitation facilities, three municipality buildings; four Centres for social welfare, and four healthcare facilities. Also in the 24 most affected municipalities, grants will be made to small and medium enterprises to help them restart activity, retaining around 2,000 jobs.
These days I am attending opening of schools and kindergartens. It’s very rewarding and makes you feel as though you are really making a difference when you can present reconstructed and modern educational facilities for children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I would also point to the population and housing census. Lots of people told us it couldn’t be done. But together with the three statistical institutes it was done!
5. What would you say to your successor and what responsibilities you are leaving to him/her?
Once you leave, you leave – and I would not presume to set an agenda for my successor. In fact, I think the real work is for the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to do: to fulfil the expectations of citizens especially after the elections.
There are of course some well-known issues on the table. Both BiH citizens and the EU want this country to join the EU. And every survey shows that citizens want a better life – they want jobs, better salaries and pensions, good education and health system, fight against corruption…
So everyone working in politics and institutions has, I think, a responsibility to take forward social and economic reform that will open up more jobs, use public funds more wisely and make it easier to do business. That is the way to build more prosperity. Linked to that, clearly there needs to be progress on the key EU-related obligations.
This includes ending discrimination in certain elections and making an agreement on a co-ordination mechanism so that BiH can speak to the EU with one voice. If those things can be done, I think Bosnia and Herzegovina can make progress first and foremost on its own prosperity and equally on its EU future.
6. What would be your message the citizens and politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
We want you in the EU. We’re here to help you get there, but the steps need to be taken by Bosnia and Herzegovina. We believe you can do it.
7. Your brief review or comment on the last general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
The EU has welcomed the overall orderly conduct of the elections and also made clear that allegations of irregularities should be investigated. We are grateful for the work of the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission and their eventual recommendations of OSCE/ODIHR will need to be addressed by Bosnia and Herzegovina
Most important for us now is swift government formation at all levels, so that incoming authorities can address the real challenges that BiH faces. It is now up to those elected to deliver in the next four years.