BH & EU, INTERVIEWS

Lower levels of government are significant for the EU integrations of BiH

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By  Nevena Šarenac

Representative of Sarajevo Canton in Brussels Dino Elezović in his interview to ”Sarajevo Times” said that mechanisms of coordination, which is proposed by the EU Delegation in BiH, apart from state level, also includes lower levels of government in the process of the EU Integration, noting that the Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton and the Representative Body of RS, as institutional representative bodies of lower levels of government in BiH, are formally recognised from the Committee of Regions and other EU institutions. Talking about the work of Sarajevo Canton Representative Body he pointed out the fact, that among other things, the Representative Body mediated in application and implementation of more than 30 projects, and that the Representative Body, apart from the competent Ministry of Economy and Tourism is cooperating with tourist community and tourist and cultural associations of Sarajevo Canton and sensibly uses potentials that offers BiH Diaspora and cultural associations outside BiH.

In an interview to ”Sarajevo Times”, Elezović notes that all European institutions greeted the implementation of ”Sejdić-Finci” ruling in Sarajevo Canton, and adds that this canton can be an example to other cantons and entities.

In Brussels, apart from permanent Mission of BiH to the EU and Embassy of BiH in Belgium, Sarajevo Canton and RS have their Representative Bodies. We can hear in public, the opinion that there is more than one Representative Body in Brussels, which is opposite to coordination mechanism in BiH, which implies the unanimous stance of BIH towards the EU, which is one of the conditions from the Road Map. What is your stance concerning that issue?

If you look at coordination mechanisms proposed by the EU Delegation in BiH, you will see that that mechanism, apart from the state level, it also includes lower levels of government in process of the EU integration, in other words, entities, cantons and local communities. Of course, the state remains the main negotiator with Brussels in the process of integration. On the suggestion of that mechanism, coordinators were established which will, with the help of coordinating bodies at the level of entities, actively follow the process of the EU integrations of BIH as much as they can.

Coordination mechanism of the EU integration must include the so-called ‘multilevel’ process of harmonizing the EU legislative which includes all levels of government, and in some phases it also includes NGOs and common citizens through dialogue and public discussions. The same mechanism is already applied in the EU member states. If we look at the federal constitution of most of member states, we shall see that most areas are in the exclusive or shared competency of the region and the country.  So it is necessary to include regions in the early phase in the drafting of laws and to have them understand in which manners they need to harmonize their legislature with the EU legislature. That regional approach is applied to both member states, and those countries that are in the process of becoming one

Similar mechanism was made on supranational level of the EU itself through institutions like The EU Committee of the Regions. With that, lower levels of state members were given the possibility to express their stances at the level of the EU itself, and with that the right to be a part of law drafting processes at the level of the EU.

Coordination mechanism of the EU integrations in the country itself, as well as ‘Multilevel’ policy at the level of the EU gives the full legitimacy to over 350 regions to have their own representative bodies in Brussels in the manner to actively follow the EU policy, to express their standpoints and to represent interests of their region during the process of law adoption at the level of the EU, and to help on harmonizing its own legislature.

It is expected from BiH, as a future member state, to work in the same manner. So, Representative bodies of Sarajevo Canton and RS, as institutional representative bodies of lower level of government of BiH are formally recognised from the EU Committee of the Regions and other EU institutions.

If we would compare ourselves with the successful integration of Croatia to the EU, it is important to note that most Croatian counties have opened their regional representative bodies in Brussels in the first stage of the accession to the EU. With that, the prerogative of the country as the main negotiator has not been compromised at any moment.

We must not forget that the EU, the Union of member states, which transfer a part of their competency to the Union, and according to Brussels, the role of the country as the main negotiator in its basis is undisputable.

Regional Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton in Brussels was founded in 2007. Can you for portal ‘Sarajevo Times’ name several concrete projects that you realised in the field of economy? What are the main deficiencies when it comes to realization of projects and withdrawing the money from the EU funds?

Project applications for EU funds are very demanding, one needs to have expert knowledge and experience in the process of writing applications, as well as in the later realization of projects financed from the EU funds. Neatly prepared application with partners is not a guarantee that you will get a project. Our experience tells us that the rules for implementation of projects are very rigorous. So, when applying one must predict the possibility of realization. All that points out to need for experts at the level of Sarajevo Canton which will have the expertise, from very beginning, to work on preparing application and to keep track of the project realization itself.

So far, via representative bodies and in cooperation with other regions, several seminars were organised as well several expert workshops and study visits with the aim to transmit the needed knowledge and to train expert personnel. The Representative body has mediated in application and realization of more than 30 projects. In that manner, ministries have adopted the long-term cooperation with several European partners and took more than 2 million EUR, towards the development of SMEs and business zones and employment policy. Pre-accession IPA funds are very limited to strengthening institutional and personnel capacities, while these programs of over-border cooperation have co-financed project from the fields of tourism, environment protection, energy efficiency, and the focus is on projects that help young people in finding jobs.

The role of the Representative body in project management is quantitatively hard to measure, but qualitatively it is an inevitable link in successful realization of project in the manner which will thoroughly inform about the open calls, interpret legal acts and EU directives needed for the application of project, to present project ideas of the Canton to European partners, to help in educating expert personnel, to exchange knowledge and experience with other partners, to be mediator and negotiator with relevant institutions in the early phase of applying to be a contact point of the Canton towards 350 representative bodies of other European regions. The representative body itself, with only one permanently employed member, in this phase, does not have the capacity to participate in the project realization, sectors of ministries and institutions are those who carry out projects.

How does the Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton promotes culture and tourism of BiH to its Belgian citizens? What are the concrete steps you take in order to affirm multiculturalism, as one of the key values of BiH?

In promotion of cultural heritage and tourist potentials of Sarajevo Canton and BiH, the Representative Body apart from the competent Ministry of Economy and Tourism, is cooperating with tourist community and tourist and cultural associations of Sarajevo Canton and it sensibly uses potentials that BiH diaspora and cultural associations outside BiH offer.

It is a known fact that BiH Diaspora has integrated well in the world. Business contacts, professional young personnel with knowledge of several foreign languages is a rich resource that BIH has in the world. So, the Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton is trying to integrate the Diaspora as true promoters of BiH values. In that manner, the Represent Body becomes a part of a developed network of foreign partners and the Diaspora as a promoter of all those comparative advantages that BiH can offer to foreign investor. For investing, it is important to have trust and partner relation, and cooperation with the Diaspora is helping us to present ourselves as a relevant partner to the world.

In cooperation with BiH cultural association Gratiartis from Belgium, we’ve had several cultural and tourist promotions in the premises of the Representative Body. All those presentations were well visited, and people are starting to show interest in BiH as a tourist destination and they getting to know BiH rich natural and cultural heritage. Tourist agencies and large health insurance companies from Belgium visit our presentations that talk about winter, country-side and spa tourism, so that they could enlist BiH as a destination in their rehabilitation offers. Also, larger number of tourist agencies is interested in BiH as a tourist destination.

Foreign partners are also interested in possibilities of joint investing in production. Food, textile, wood and metal industries are in their focus.

In segments of direct investment and as an incentive to export of domestic products the Diaspora can be very good partner for joint investments and they can also transmit knowledge and they can serve as a link to both foreign investors to BIH and domestic exporters to European countries. In cooperation with the World Diaspora Association, the Representative body is working on creating the data base, and organising all business meetings of the Diaspora and exporters from Sarajevo Canton.

It is a fact that Sarajevo Canton is the first institution in BiH that has implemented the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the case ‘Sejdić-Finci’ in its Constitution. In your opinion, how much is important the role of regional and local communities in the process of the EU integration of BiH to Brussels? If the lower levels of government would follow the example of Sarajevo Canton and implement the ruling ‘Sejdić-Finci’ would it contribute to faster integration of our country to the EU?

Exactly the implementation of ‘Sejdić-Finci’ ruling at the level of Sarajevo Canton, as a lower level of government brings us back to the first question, which is the role of the Canton and lower levels of government in the processes of the EU integrations. The EU, expects, from both the country and the lower level to implement the ruling. Taking into consideration its constitutional competencies and to guarantee rights that constitutive nations have to minorities, Sarajevo canton has done it. European institutions have reacted immediately and via Resolution of the EU Parliament on BIH and the opinion of Committee of Regions, they have welcomed a good example of Sarajevo Canton and have expressed their expectations that other cantons, and entities, would do the same, which would be an incentive for the entire country to the same. And so, this case has proved that the implementation of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights is not just a task of the country but also of lower levels of government. The same thing is expected in the process of harmonisation of EU legislation with domestic one, and that will be a long process.

Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton in Brussels is situated in the same building as the representative bodies of partner regions, Friuli Venezia Giulia (Italy), Carinthia (Austria) and Istria County (Croatia). How is the cooperation of Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton with representative bodies of other European regions? What is the role of strengthening over-border and inter-regional cooperation in the process of accession of BiH to the EU?

Being in Brussels in the same building as other regional representative bodies is very important for a region that wants to promote itself as the region of Europe and a reliable institutional partner. We share our premises with strategic partners, economically strong regions from Austria and Italy and the most developed region of Croatia. Signing the Agreement on Cooperation we have secured the usage of the premises of Representative Body on non-market price, we are in the centre of all the institutions of the EU, and our permanent partners help us in establishing cooperation with other European regions, which can be interpreted as a certain guarantee that Sarajevo Canton is a reliable cooperation partner.

Austria, Italy and Croatia are our partners in over-border and interregional cooperation, we’ve have the largest number of realized projects with them, and they help as to be actively included into euro-macro regional trends, such as Danube and Adriatic Strategy; to follow very complex regional policy of the EU and they guide us in manners of using financial mechanisms. At all important events in Brussels, we act jointly, and with that doors to all important meetings and dialogues are opened to us, which would not be case for the potential candidate country.

Brussels is the largest centre of lobbying and representing interests, the centre of the EU, 28 member states, and the seat of NATO, the seat of interest unions and associations and representative bodies of more than 350 European regions. In Brussels, one needs to show itself as a relevant and reliable partner that knows how to communicate at the European market, which knows how to be networked and to prove its worth through constant realization of projects and establishment of cooperation with strong partners.

European partner gets a different perception of Sarajevo Canton and BiH when he’s greeted warmly in the premises of the Representative Body of Sarajevo Canton in Brussels.

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