European Western Balkans continues with our series of interviews with Members of the European Parliament. This time we had the pleasure to speak with Prof. Dr. Cristian Dan Preda (@CDPreda), Standing Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the European Parliament. MEP Preda visited Bosnia and Herzegovina during the last week for a series of high-level meetings with BiH political representatives and to participate in the Konrad Adenauer event under the name “Zašto Europa – Why Europe”, organized by the scholarship holders of the organisation. We had the pleasure to speak with Prof. Dr. Preda after his keynote lecture given to students and scholarship holders.
European Western Balkans: Mr. Preda thank you for accepting our invitation for the interview. For the start, can you tell us why BiH? Is that a challenge for you?
Cristian Dan Preda: At the beginning of the current mandate of the European Parliament, we had internal consultations in my Group, the EPP, and it emerged from this that there was consensus for trying to obtain two rapporteurships: Serbia and BiH. All Western Balkans countries are of course important for us, but we thought that, for different reasons, it was important to concentrate on these two countries. As for why I chose BiH, I guess you can say I like a challenge! The reason why I chose it is because of the complexity of the country and because I felt we should get involved and help the country get out of a stalemate that was already going on for too long.
EWB: What is your personal opinion about the European Union and the importance of integrating Bosnia and Herzegovina into the EU? What are biggest issues of BiH on the European path?
CDP: I consider myself a convinced European and I deeply believe in the transformative power of the European model. I have seen it at work in my home country, Romania, and I am convinced that one day BiH will also benefit from EU integration, which will bring political stability and prosperity. How soon that will happen, it of course depends on BiH and its political elites. As to the biggest challenges that BiH faces, my report adopted at the end of April contains a long list of issues to address! If I were to single out one of them, that would be tackling corruption.
EWB: As a parliamentarian and rapporteur, how does your cooperation with the institutions of BiH look like and, especially, with your colleagues from the BiH Parliament? How do you see the role of the BiH Parliament and all other parliaments in the country in the integration process? Many believe that the BiH Parliament is not fulfilling its task and had been sidelined in the accession process.
CDP: I haven’t been rapporteur for a very long time, as you know, but so far the cooperation with the institutions has been very good. We had open and frank discussions with all major institutional actors, both at state and entity level. As regards the cooperation between parliaments, I would say it is also very good. We just had in May the 17th Inter parliamentary meeting BiH/EP and pretty soon our cooperation will be enhanced, following the entry into force of the SAA. Our relations will be upgraded to a Joint parliamentary committee that will meet twice a year, once in Brussels and once in Sarajevo. This will be effective in November 2015 already, we will have our first JPC in Sarajevo. Now, EP relations with third country assemblies are normally limited to the state level, but all parliaments in BiH have a role to play in the process of EU accession, according to the internal division of competencies. And I regularly meet with parliamentarians from all levels of authority. They are very important actors of the accession process because they are the ones who will implement reforms. They are the ones who must strive to find consensus, not only on each piece of legislation but also, more generally, on the basic objective of European integration.
EWB: The new initiative gave BiH a positive momentum and a wake-up call. Despite that, we are witnessing some serious crises in the entity governments which can threaten the announced reform agenda. What is your view on that and how to resolve the current issues in both FBiH and RS?
CDP: The European Parliament has of course welcomed the renewed approach towards BiH. And I think everybody on the EU side was hoping that the positive momentum generated by this, with the adoption of the Written Commitment, the entry into force of the SAA and so on, would continue. The crisis in the entities have somewhat shaken this hope. We must however distinguish between the two cases because the circumstances are not the same: on one side we have a problem of majority in the Federation, generated by the inability to agree on how to deal with the management of public companies; on the other side, in RS we have a different situation, where the issue of having a majority is not a problem, but there are objections as to the content of the draft Reform Agenda. So, different situations, which require different solutions: finding a majority, respectively agreeing on formulations of the Reform Agenda. But it ultimately boils down to the fact that political forces must act responsibly and not lose sight of the objective of the country, which is European integration. And this means working to find solutions. Consensus and compromise are key. Not because we ask for it, but because BiH citizens need it.
EWB: BiH civil society is often complaining that it is excluded from important decision-making activities when it comes to the integration process. How to improve the presence of civil society organisations and what is the added value they can give in this process in your opinion?
CDP: Civil society has in general a very important role to play when it comes to articulating citizen’s interests and demands. This is true for any society, and even more so for societies in transition, such as the one in BiH, or my own country, Romania, where democratic practices are not yet solidly established. In our resolution from 30 April 2015, we recognised this general idea and we underlined also that civil society organisations have indeed an important role to play in the accession process. But I believe it is not only up to the EU Delegation in the country to involve them. This is already happening on regular basis, from discussions on Compact from Growth and Jobs to their involvement in the Structured dialogue on justice to give just a few examples. The efforts to integrate CSOs must come also from the BiH side. And, in my report voted in the plenary, we suggested a few ways to improve the situation, such as establishing transparent and inclusive public consultation mechanisms with all stakeholders, the establishment of a framework for public discussion of important legislative decisions and the adoption of a national strategy for civil society.
EWB: What do you consider to be especially important for further integration of the whole region of Western Balkans in the EU?
CDP: I see two major issues here and they are actually linked. In order to advance the integration of the whole region we need good neighbourly relations and reconciliation. How to move forward towards Europe if old wounds are still unhealed and tensions persist? Of course, it is not an easy task and it is a process that takes time, but reconciliation has been, as you know, from the very beginning at the heart of the European integration. In spite of the difficult recent past, the countries from the region need to establish a kind of solidarity between them, better links. And sometimes it is necessary to start from “very concrete achievements that would establish solidarity in fact”, to paraphrase the wording of the Schuman Declaration. From this perspective, the recent initiatives of the European Commission on the connectivity agenda for the Western Balkans are to be welcomed.
EWB: You had the chance to speak to a younger generations of Bosnians/Herzegovinians today. This generation is still underrepresented when it comes to the political life in BiH. What is your message for them?
CDP: The meeting I had with students from BiH today was a very important moment of my visit. Not only as rapporteur, but also as professor of political sciences, I value very much the contact with the younger generations. The input they provide is very important for feeling the pulse of a society. I did not come to the meeting with any particular message, I just wanted to make them ask themselves questions about European integration. Why Europe? This a question they must find answers to by themselves, through dialogue with others (myself included). And I would encourage young people from BiH to get involved, to hold their political representatives accountable. It might seem a cliche, but they do have a word to say in shaping their country’s future, even if they are not involved in politics. Also, as I said to the students I met, it is important to be prepared and formed in EU affairs, it will facilitate the country’s accession and make it easier to benefit, for instance, from EU funds.
EWB: Recently there has been a lot of reports regarding resolutions on Srebrenica genocide in various international and national bodies. Can you tell us your opinion on the debate about the resolution in the European Parliament?
CDP: Completely different topic. Well, as I came here, I wanted actually to see how the different institutional actors I met perceive the whole issue of having a resolution in the European Parliament on this topic. For now, it was decided, following a consensus between the two main groups in the EP, to only have a debate during our next plenary session in Strasbourg in July. We thought it is important to mark this very sad 20th anniversary in the Parliament, to remember the victims, pay respect to their families and see that something like this never happens. Now, we have not asked for a resolution because we did not think that this would actually be helpful in the current context in the country, and also at regional level. And this was shared by almost of all the interlocutors I met in BiH.
EWB: Mr. Preda thank you for your detailed answers and your time. We wish you success in your work in the European Parliament and especially on your work as Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the House.
Author: Denis Piplaš