EWB Interviews: Nevenka Savic, Head of Directorate for European integrations of Council of Ministers of BiH

European Western Balkans continues with series of interviews with key people from Western Balkans countries which are involved in European integration process of their countries. Mrs. Nevenka Savić is Head of Directorate for European integrations of Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She graduated at the Faculty of Economics at University of Sarajevo. Mrs. Savić was employed in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of BIH in 1999 as Head of Division for PHARE Programme. From 2000 to 2002 engaged as Head of Office of the Minister of European Integrations of BIH and Head of Division for the Stability Pact Working Table II. Mrs. Savić worked in the Parliamentarian Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2007. During this period, served as Secretary of the Committee for Foreign and Trade Policy of the House of People, Secretary of the Joint Committee for European Integrations and Secretary of the BIH Parliamentarian Assembly Delegation in the Inter-Parliamentarian Union. Mrs. Savić was appointed as Head of the Directorate for European Integrations of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009.

European Western Balkans: What is your personal position on the European Union and on the integration of BiH into the EU?

Nevenka Savić: Future EU membership is a strategic objective of Bosnia and Herzegovina and I truly believe that there is no alternative to EU integration of BiH. Despite all the problems it is experiencing, the EU is still a community of democratic and prosperous states, having for its top priority the rule of law and the citizens’ living standards. These two priorities, along with guarantees for peace and political stability, are the most important reasons for which 85 % BiH citizens, according to the most recent survey, done in February, support accession to the EU.

EWB: What is the role of the Directorate in the process of accession of BiH to the EU? Given the complex structure of government, what is your cooperation like with the State-, Entity- and Cantonal levels of authority in BiH, concerning alignment of legislation with EU standards?

NS: The Directorate for European Integration (DEI) is a permanent expert body of the BiH Council of Ministers in charge of coordinating activities at a professional and operational level, required by the process of EU integration. It is also the chief operative partner of the European Commission in BiH. The Directorate is directly responsible to the BiH Council of Ministers Chairman, who coordinates and monitors the activities by government institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina related to integration into the EU. The DEI Director is also the National IPA Coordinator, therefore the DEI acts as the NIPAC office. The essential task of the Directorate is operational coordination, which is very requiring and time consuming given the complex governmental structure of BiH. In relation to alignment of legislation with the acquis, the DEI checks the compliance of draft legislation proposed by State institutions and the BiH Parliamentary Assembly. In the Entities and in the Brčko District, alignment of legislation with the acquis is performed by competent institutions. However, there is no obligation or practice of exchange of alignment instruments, although the Directorate has several times initiated such an exchange. Therefore the need for coordinated transposition, implementation and application of acquis among all levels of government in BiH stresses the importance of priority establishment of an efficient coordination mechanism for the integration process, so BiH can speak “with a single voice” on issues related to the EU. Achievement of political agreements on an efficient coordination mechanism and on harmonisation of BiH Constitution with the European Court of Human Rights ruling Sejdić/Finci are two key conditions identified in the Road Map for Submission of a Credible EU Membership Application. This document was harmonised among political representatives in BiH and the European Commission at the 1st High Level Dialogue meeting on Accession Process, held on 26 July 2012.

Nevenka Savić
Nevenka Savić

EWB: The role of the EU in BiH is somewhat different in comparison to the other Western Balkans countries? What exactly is the mandate of the EU in BiH? Does international presence advance the process of accession of BiH to the European Union?

NS: BiH has a High Representative of the International Community, who is the supreme interpreter of the Dayton Peace Accord, as well as an EU Special Representative. This illustrates an intensive engagement of the EU, whose delegation in BiH is the most numerous one in the world. Intensified international presence implies more resources for the provision of guidelines and recommendations, as well as more supervision of what needs to be implemented. However, as well as in other enlargement countries, all the burden of social transformation and necessary reforms lies on the internal forces, i.e. on the country itself.

EWB: Putting apart the EU integration of BiH, in your opinion, how important for BiH citizens is acceptance of European standards?

NS: Many aspects of the modern world depend on standards and world as we know it would stop without standards. Competition, regulation of business activities, better organisation and planning, but also reduction of costs, are the main advantages of standardisation. Standardisation benefits everyone, from producers, whose prices and quality become more competitive in the European and world market, to consumers and service users, who receive better and, more importantly, safer products and services, which is guaranteed by the standard or norm the products or services are based on. Once a high level of standardisation is reached, there is a lot less unpredictable or uncontrolled situations and citizens benefit from it.

EWB: There is an impression that BiH continues to be slowest in advancing in the EU integration process. We presume that many problems that hinder this advancement. An agreement must be reached at the political level (e.g. Sejdić/Finci case). Are there also some obstacles of technical nature?

NS: Although less than a decade ago BiH was the regional leader of EU integration, the country is now in the last place and one of the two countries without a candidate status. One of the prerequisites for formal advancement in the process, i.e. for submission of a credible application for EU membership, is harmonisation of the BiH Constitution with the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the context of implementation of the Sejdić/Finci ruling. But of essential importance for the process itself and for all related upcoming tasks is the establishment of efficient coordination of activities in relation to integration. This gains additional importance when considering the complex structure of BiH and distribution of competences among several levels of government. All the domestic actors should function as a whole. This is the greatest challenge in BiH in terms of EU integration. This appears to be a technical issue, but it is an essential political one.

EWB: When do you expect the SAA to come into effect? Can you briefly explain our readers what the High Level Dialogue on the Accession Process and the Interim Agreement are?

NS: The procedure of ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) has been completed in all the EU Member States. However, the key condition for its coming into effect is implementation of the Sejdić/Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. It is hard to estimate when the political leaders in BiH could reach an agreement on the implementation of this ruling, especially given that this is an election year. It is clear, however, that any major step forward in the process depends on meeting this condition and on establishing an efficient coordination mechanism. These two requirements are identified in the mentioned Road Map for Submission of a Credible Application for EU Membership, agreed upon at the 1st High Level Dialogue meeting on Accession Process, held on 26 July 2012, initiated by the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy. It is especially important that this mechanism has enabled political decision makers to hear directly from the European Commission certain explanations of conditions and methodologies in the process of EU accession and the expectations which BiH must satisfy in the accession process.

Meanwhile, in effect since 1 July 2008 has been the Interim Agreement, which includes SAA sections on trade and trade issues. Joint EU and BiH bodies, the Interim Committee and Interim Subcommittees, have been formed on the basis of the Interim Agreement and tasked to monitor the implementation and application of the Agreement.

EWB: Do you consult with your colleagues in other candidate countries as regards the accession process? If you do, what are the areas in which you cooperate? Regional cooperation is an obligation, but also a need of the countries within the Stabilisation and Association Process. Many obligations and priorities within this process require almost simultaneous action by countries in the region, because they pose common challenges.

NS: At the operational level of integration, at which the Directorate acts, BiH cooperates with all the partner institutions in the region. An example of such cooperation is that with the Centre for Excellence of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, which has the freshest experience in the process, especially in alignment of legislation. Through training sessions and seminars experts of the Centre have been transferring necessary knowledge and skills to civil servants in BiH. We cooperate with Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro in planning and implementing cross-border cooperation programmes. We also exchange experiences related to internal organisation of the process in its different phases. We monitor the activities being taken by Montenegro and Serbia regarding negotiations on membership. Necessity of mutual cooperation in the region is an important component of integration. BiH regularly makes bilateral agreements in the field of justice, trade and transport with other countries in the region. It also notes, in the European Commission annual progress reports, continuous progress in the domain of regional cooperation.

EWB: Do you think that, in addition to alignment of legislation and policies with the EU, there should be a change in the citizens’ attitude on their obligations toward the State, but also on the obligations of the administration, Ministers, Parliament representatives toward citizens? Where should this change be directed?

NS: Countries which have completed transition and subsequently integration into the EU, have indicated that these processes primarily imply fundamental social changes, i.e. a change in the attitude and interest of citizens for participation in essential social processes. Such changes include a high level of responsibility, both for what we do and what we expect, with a view to creating a potential environment for implementation of comprehensive reforms. On one occasion, I heard a remark that the overall level of social responsibility in Western Balkans countries would increase once the citizens truly started to think of themselves as taxpayers. I think that this remark explains a lot.

EWB: What is it that you consider exceptionally important for further process of EU integration of BiH?

NS: Experience on the fact that real negotiations on essential European integration reforms take place inside the country, not with the European Union, is especially evident in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is precisely why the culture and practice of dialogue, compromise, conciliation of positions “in house” make the ingredients for a perfect recipe for progress in the EU integration process. There are several examples confirming that this recipe works, but considering the importance for BiH citizens, I think that the best one was the recipe concerning the implementation of conditions included into the Road Map for Liberalisation of the Visa Regime. It has been confirmed that, once there is compromise and when meeting of certain requirements becomes a  joint priority, even very numerous and complex conditions may be met in a relatively short time.

It is very important for the general public to view integration as a means to a better living standard for citizens. EU Membership is not a goal by itself, so expectations from decision makers, but also from ourselves, should be directed toward using the integration process as a means towards creating a desirable living environment. Viewed like this, EU membership becomes a logical result, not the purpose of the entire process.

EWB: Thank you Mrs. Savić for cooperation. European Western Balkans wishes you very best in process of integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina into European Union.

Authors: Nemanja Todorović Štiplija and Nikola Ristić