Sarajevo Times had the pleasure to speak with the Ambassador of Norway to B&H, Vibeke Lilloe. Ambassador Lilloe spoke to us about an array of topics that are topical in B&H, such as investment opportunities, democratization and civil society in B&H, Euro-Atlantic integration and euro-skepticism, and the role of Norway in lending assistance to B&H.
By: Nevena Šarenac
You probably know that one of the biggest problems of the economy in BiH is the huge unemployment rate. Can you say for Sarajevo Times in what way could the Kingdom of Norway help our country? That is, what do Norwegian businessmen specifically need to be able to invest in BiH? In which areas is it the most necessary to invest in to create new jobs?
Economic development is among the prioritized areas for cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Norway. We have several cooperation projects together in this sector, both business incubators, entrepreneurship projects, in the business side of agriculture only to mention a few. You ask me what Norwegian businessmen specifically need to be able to invest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The answer to that it simple, not only Norwegian, but also all businessmen need fair and predictable framework conditions before investing. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a challenge in that respect, especially the Federation. Authorities in the country should focus on this – to be able to establish a simple and fast, fair and predictable investment climate in order to attract foreign investors.
As regards the question of which areas it is necessary to invest in to create new jobs, I know that parts of business and industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a need for qualified labor that they cannot find. So, it is necessary to look at what is the demand and then combine that with the supply. In other words, educate the capacity that the business and industry actually needs. In addition it is also important to look at new areas and to try to create new job opportunities.
We have a limited number of Norwegian companies active in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I know that Norwegian companies are active within production in wood and metal. Some have also been active in the fields of energy and fish.
Norway supports the reform of the judiciary in BiH since 2001, primarily through support to the establishment of HJPC, as well as through its contribution to efficiency and quality of judiciary. Can an independent and impartial judiciary bring us prosperity? Does judicial control threaten the rule of law in BiH?
Norway wants to contribute to building a free, sustainable and fair democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the benefit of all its people. And, an unconditional prerequisite for that is a well functioning and fair judicial system. Bosnia and Herzegovina still has some way to go in that respect. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Norway is of the opinion that a well functioning judicial system is best secured through the HJPC, even if other models might function well in other countries. Norway has supported with very substantial amounts both the HJPC directly but also effectuation of court systems and refurbishment of courts, both in the Federation and in the RS. Norway expressed its concerns some time ago about proposals to transfer the authority to appoint prosecutors from HJPC to entity parliaments.
As for prosperity – Norway is of the opinion that a well functioning democracy, which utilizes on an equal footing the abilities and capacities of all its citizens, including both genders and all minorities, will bring prosperity. I think my country is a proof of that.
The challenge BiH is faced with on a daily basis is the development of democratic institutions, and we receive constant messages that the country needs significant reforms. However, there is civil awareness, which definitely woke up, in the recent Persona-ID-Number protests when united citizens fought for their rights. In your opinion, how much do such civil gatherings contribute to democracy development? What kind of message are we sending to Europe and the world with such protests?
Civil awareness is good. I think to involve oneself in the society one lives in is a necessity. Norway supports civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Every year we announce funding for civil society projects, especially those that aim at strengthening the watchdog and advocacy abilities of the civil society organizations. I feel it is important that such work is done in a way that unifies across ethnic division lines. The demonstrations I think you are referring to were connected to one very specific issue, and the tragedy it resulted in. Whether other political issues and/or the international integration process would muster the same kind of involvement, I do not know. Again, I feel it is important that actions taken do not divide more than they unify the peoples of this country.
According to some information we heard, but also according to numerous Norwegian officials, BH citizens are the most integrated and most educated immigrant group in Norway. Is this true, and what is their current position in Norway?
Norway received a large number of refugees during the war in the 90s. And 15.000 of them are still in Norway. And you are right – I think that no other group of refugees that has arrived in Norway over the years has been that good at integrating in Norwegian society as the refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. They came to Norway. It helped that they were already used to winter, of course. After a while they learned the language, they got jobs and they got on with life. I never heard anybody speak badly about the Bosnian Herzegovinians in Norway. And some of them are contributing actively to economic development in Bosnia and Herzegovina now.
Cooperation between the countries opting for EU membership can be beneficial for the whole region, including BiH. In your opinion, how can such cooperation help us in increasing security, as well as faster political and economic progress? In public, there is a prevailing opinion that young people in BiH are skeptical regarding BH accession to EU. Why do you think that it is the case?
Norway is of the opinion that the best way ahead for Bosnia Herzegovina, in other words the best way to secure a sustainable, fair and well functioning democracy for all, is to integrate in EU and NATO. We feel that in the long run security and economic development will follow. As to your question about the attitude of young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is difficult to say exactly what is the reason. Perhaps they are tired of the status quo, of not much moving forward towards the EU, and perhaps it is difficult for them to see how it will benefit them. The international community as such could most likely do a better job of explaining just that.
According to my information around 70% of the population is for the EU. Norway agrees with the EU. It is high time the politicians take the necessary steps to proceed in the earlier mentioned processes. Just now, Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be lagging significantly behind its neighbors. And that is a pity.
The Royal Norwegian Embassy has the Small Grants Fund, which is an integral part of Norwegian assistance to the Western Balkans. What are the goals of the activities implemented through the small grants program? How much can such funds help in solving concrete problems in local communities?
The Norwegian Embassy has two funding schemes:
The Civil Society Fund, which I have already mentioned, supports projects that aim at strengthening especially the watchdog and advocacy ability of civil society, preferably working across ethnic division lines.
We also have the small grants fund, a very wide funding arrangement, but smaller amounts. Projects from many areas are accepted, but should build up under the main priorities in the cooperation between Bosnia Herzegovina and Norway.
In addition to this funding administered by the Embassy, the main bulk of the funding and the bigger projects are administrated from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo.
And the main priorities in our cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina are to build a strong, fair and sustainable democracy. We want to help Bosnia Herzegovina achieve the necessary EU and NATO standards, as mentioned before. That being said, the justice sector, the security sector, economic development and civil society are among our main areas of cooperation.
As for the funding mechanisms the Embassy administrates, the funding for this year has been spent in full. But next year in February there will be new possibilities.
On 24 June, BiH signed the EFTA Agreement. EFTA members are Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Iceland. Regarding the fact that your country is an EFTA member, what are the advantages of this membership? What does that mean concretely for BH products?
The Free Trade Agreement signed in Trondheim in Norway on 24 June 2013 will first and foremost bring the economies of BiH on the one hand, and the four EFTA states on the other, closer together through increased trade and investment flows.
For Norwegian businesses it was important to achieve the same level of market access in BiH as their main competitors, which are businesses located in the European Union. We expect that exports and investments from Norway to BiH will increase thanks to the EFTA Free Trade Agreement.
Norway’s experience with free trade agreements is that they give concrete and measurable benefits in terms of increased trade. On average import from free trade partner countries increase more than 10 % annually. We expect to see a similar increase in products from BiH as soon as the treaty enters into force next year.
Without such an agreement textile-products and agricultural products from BiH would be subject to import duties in Norway. The EFTA Free Trade Agreement ensures that almost all products we import from BiH can be imported without such duties.
Finally I would just like to add that I like very much living here in Sarajevo. Bosnians and Herzegovinians are very patient, friendly and hospitable people who welcome you and include you. I appreciate that very much. In addition, Sarajevo is a good place to live and we are surrounded by beautiful landscape and nature with ample opportunity for out-door activities.