“We offer support to our neighbours, not because we are particularly generous and have a big heart. I mean, we do have a big heart! But in addition to that, we need a neighbourhood which is a source of stability and partnership”, says Borrell.
Question: On the path to the EU, should BiH amend its Constitution, and what should the amendments entail?
BORRELL: That is up to you. We have very precise requirements. Those are the 14 key priorities, and it is up to you to fulfil them. If the Constitution needs to be changed, then you should change it. It is not up to us to tell you what to do.
Question: Are there some minimal requirements?
BORRELL: Of course there are, and they need to be fulfilled. We are talking about citizens’ rights, equal opportunities for all. Take the “Sejdić and Finci” ruling. The issue of active and passive voting rights. Everybody should be enabled to run for office, not only representatives of the constituent peoples.
So, yes. You would probably have to amend your constitution. I cannot imagine EU with a member state whose citizens, due to the fact that they belong or do not belong to any national group, cannot be candidates in the elections.
Question: My question concerns the large investment plan. There is this problem of some member states blocking adoption of the multiannual financial framework. In what way could that affect BiH and the region?
BORRELL: Don’t worry about that. We have to have a budget. It is unimaginable that the EU would not reach an agreement on the budget for the next seven-year period. So that will be resolved. One way or another.
The EU must have a budget. It cannot function without it. It includes within it the funds for the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. An important part of this package should go to BiH. So I would not worry about the budget.
Question: The package you are talking about is conditioned: no reforms - no money to any of the six countries?
BORRELL: Of course. There are certain conditions.
We offer support to our neighbours, not because we are particularly generous and have a big heart. I mean, we do have a big heart! But apart from that, we need a neighbourhood which is a source of stability and partnership. That is the reason why we insist on reforms, because we believe they are for your own good, and at the same time they are in our direct interest.
If somebody is not acting in line with our values and interests, then it is clear that our resources would be reallocated to some other formats. Generally speaking, people respond to incentives. That is human nature.
Question: The EU is a big motivator, perhaps even the most important one. How to relate this initiative with reforms that are necessary?
BORRELL: Certainly. We are aware of all that. It is clear that future of the Balkans is in the EU. Regardless of the attempts by China and Russia, or even the USA, to exert their influence and become significant players, none of them can in essence offer anything that would be so important as the European perspective and EU membership. Only the EU can offer that, as well as the structured perspective for the future. The whole of the Balkans has very clear guidelines and directions for the future.
We cannot afford for BiH to be a failed state. Because it is not in our interest. We know that for many in BiH, Europe is the shining and guiding light. They would be very disappointed if the EU were to say: “We do not care about you”. That is simply not going to happen. Because that is our own interest. We cannot afford for your country to fail.
Question: How would you evaluate your visit to BiH?
BORRELL: I must say that I found it very good. I would like you to convey that. I had a good visit. My schedule was rather dense, so I got exhausted. But I have also learned a lot, and had an opportunity to see a lot. I discovered that there are a lot of opportunities to work in BiH.
My colleague, the Commissioner for Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, is doing a great job, he visited the country, presented the Economic and Investment plan, we are engaged, we are working on regional initiatives… I believe that BiH and the Balkans will remain high among my priorities. We cannot afford to have a “black spot” in South East Europe. But I also learned that things are a lot more complicated than I had expected.
Question: You said things in BiH are more complicated than you had thought. Is there something that you would specifically like to underline?
BORRELL: BiH is a very complex country. It is a community of different, I cannot really say nationalities, because the word “national” always comes with a negative connotation.
I will say that it is a country with different identities… We in the EU look at it from the perspective of local communities and citizenry rather than some national identity. There are many things that you need to overcome. Naturally, identity needs to be preserved, but it is a plural category. I am a Catalan, a Spaniard, a European. All of these are my identities. And they are not mutually conflicted. There is nothing disputable about that. Identity can be multi-layered. Human beings are a reflection of a complex reality. And it gets more complex the longer you live. And these are not identities that are mutually conflicted. I am not burdened being Catalan, Spanish, European. In the same way, it should not be burdensome being a Croat, a Serb or a Bosniak, and at the same time a Bosnian and Herzegovinian and a European. That is the secret of Europe. Europe does not cancel out any identity.
It is important to us as human beings, but it can also become a dangerous weapon if you push identity to its limits and you think that it is incompatible with something else. Then it becomes a genuine threat. What is identity, after all? There is an excellent book by Amin Maalouf on “murderous identities” (French: Les Identités Meurtrières). Identity can be misused, but is your identity a threat to mine, or vice versa? But, one can have multiple identities. Imagine, French and Germans had been killing each other for centuries, brought each other to the verge of extinction, participated in at least two global conflicts on the opposite sides. Can you imagine a war between these two countries now? I cannot.
Question: So, is there room in Europe for countries like BiH, which have a considerable Muslim majority?
BORRELL: What does 'a country with a Muslim majority' mean? We don't say 'a country with a Christian majority'. In the EU, we make clear a distinction between religion and state. The foundation of the European Union is that there is no discrimination based on religion. No one cares about [your] membership of a religion.
Question: A few days ago you met with foreign ministers of the EU countries. The discussions also touched upon the outcome of presidential elections in the USA. Do you expect relations with the Washington to improve, and to work more closely with Biden in the Balkans?
BORRELL: From the new administration we expect a strong partnership with the EU on all issues of importance for us. That is not a competition at all. We are not competing with the U.S. in the Balkans, particularly when we talk about the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. You can often hear – EU has or does not have a role, etc. The only direction that exists is membership of the Balkans in the EU. I repeat, nobody has such a perspective to offer, except us. If the Americans are here to help, we will, of course, accept the help, but we will not compete.
Question: Speaking about the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, is it enough that they agree, or are there any additional requirements?
BORRELL: The solution must come from them. We will not dictate it. It is up to them to agree. There are EU member states that are very strongly opposed to the idea of land swaps. However, in principle, what we want is to be the mediator. And to be a fair mediator. That is the role we are trying to play. So far, the things are moving quite well. I chaired one of the meetings on the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. Emotions run high, and I think it is only understandable, because the dialogue is demanding and hard, loaded with history… Still, I would say, things are moving rather well so far. And, as I said, we want to be mediators, knowing also that there are some things which are solutions unacceptable to us.
Question: Speaking about the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, how to resolve the relationship of BiH towards Kosovo, and vice versa? We have the most rigid mutual visa regime. Will the EU mediate to at least abolish that?
BORRELL: As far as we are concerned, regional integration is a necessity. That is a must. You are too small and fragmented to attract investments by multinational companies. You must have a market of a sufficient size in order to attract such investors. The region is too fragmented and with too many borders, too many obstacles to free movement of people and goods. So you should work to establish a Schengen in the Balkans. That would help a lot. In the recent summit in Sofia the ministers of internal affairs of the six Western Balkans countries and the Regional Cooperation Council were placed in charge of identifying everything that is needed to allow travel with only ID cards within that area. They are currently working on that.
When you look at the map of your region, if you want serious investments, and they are necessary, you can hardly expect to receive them being so fragmented. For example, Spain had attracted a lot of investments. But we are a market of 40 million people. And you have six countries with a few million people each. And on top of that, you have put up borders and you are divided. So you will have a hard time trying to attract somebody with your borders and systems.