An interview given to Pobjeda: Suad Music, Director of ReSPA - Regional School of Public Administration, Danilovgrad
"ReSPA Is Not Only a School, But Also a Training Centre for Regional Cooperation"
Danilovgrad – It has been exactly one year since Mr Štefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, and the then Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Ðukanovic, officially inaugurated ReSPA in Danilovgrad. The official name of this international organization is the Regional School of Public Administration; it is constituted through an international agreement of six Western Balkan countries, but it practically operates under the auspices of the European Union.
The anniversary of what is generally acclaimed as a successful year of ReSPA operation was an opportunity to talk to the ReSPA Director, Mr Suad Music. For Pobjeda, Music talks of this initiative and the process leading to the establishment of this international organisation, of the School’s activities and its role in strengthening regional cooperation, the reasons which led to choosing Montenegro and Danilovgrad for its seat, its organisational set-up and future developments…
POBJEDA: Relatively little is known about ReSPA among the Montenegrin public. Could you subscribe to this?
MUSIC: I agree that not enough is known in the public of this international organisation seated in Montenegro. I think it primarily stems from the fact that ReSPA is still developing and is yet to become fully capable of carrying out the mission it is intended for. I think that in parallel with this process, ReSPA will in time increasingly more focus on its own promotion and publication of its goals and activities. After all, this interview goes in that direction.
POBJEDA: For this reason, it would be good if you could start by saying what ReSPA actually is.
MUSIC: ReSPA has three dimensions to it – the practical, the political, and, finally, the symbolic one. When these three pieces of a puzzle come together, the role and the importance of this international organisation begin to be fully comprehended. Its practical dimension is evident from its very title – it is a school, but ReSPA is actually much more than that. What is already becoming visible today, the overall underlying design of ReSPA shows that in its core it is a centre of regional cooperation, primarily in the area of public administration in the Western Balkans.
The value of ReSPA is in its connecting people from the administrations of six countries of the region, facilitating their joint work, enabling them to acquire together new knowledge and new skills, particularly those needed in the EU accession process, as the shared aspiration of all the countries involved.
POBJEDA: And what about the symbolic dimension?
MUSIC: The symbolic value is reflected in connecting people from this region, establishing and re-establishing linkages seriously damaged during the events of 1990s. This process of establishing ties within the region is very important, leading to possible change in our behaviour, attitudes and thinking, aimed at recognising and acknowledging the value of others in the region. In a way, it is a precondition for some wider integration. I see the role of ReSPA against such a backdrop, as a specific test placed before the countries of the region by the European Union. A test which is to show to what extent our countries are ready for and capable of mutual cooperation and mutual integration, as an indicator for the EU of how they were to behave in a wider community.
POBJEDA: What gave birth to the idea of having this international organisation in the first place?
MUSIC: The initiative for establishing such an organisation dates back to 2003. It was launched at the Thessaloniki Summit of EU member states attended also by the leaders of the Western Balkan countries. This summit will remain very relevant for the Western Balkans since it was back then that the door to EU accession was practically opened for the countries of this region.
POBJEDA: What was happening in the meantime?
MUSIC: Between the Thessaloniki Summit initiative and August 2010, when the international agreement on ReSPA establishment entered into force, various activities under the auspices of the European Union were taking place. The Protocol of Cooperation in establishing ReSPA was signed in 2006 by all six countries of the region; two years later, in 2008 the Letter of Intent for setting up the school was made, ending in 2010 with the ReSPA agreement being ratified in the parliaments of all the state parties – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
POBJEDA: What does the Agreement envisage?
MUSIC: It is an agreement by which the state parties assumed substantial responsibilities, both financial and managerial, but in doing so they also showed their commitment to regional cooperation. ReSPA is particularly significant as an authentic initiative and the only international organisation of this kind created by ratification of its Articles of Association in the parliaments of all six member countries. The European Union did encourage and lead the process, but it is the region that showed understanding and recognised the importance of having such an international organisation in place.
POBJEDA: Where is Kosovo in all this?
MUSIC: A representative of Kosovo participated throughout the process of ReSPA development and establishment. When we were about to sign the international agreement on the School establishment, we found ourselves in a dead-end situation, because the countries that have not recognised Kosovo did not agree with the Government of Kosovo signing the agreement. It was offered for UNMIK to do so on behalf of Kosovo, but that was not acceptable for the Government of Kosovo. Hence, Kosovo is formally not a member of ReSPA, but it is suggested by the European Commission to include civil servants from Kosovo in all our activities. That is what, in fact, happens. It is made possible for the civil servants from Kosovo to take part in all our seminars and training events, but they do not take part in ReSPA decision-making or management tools.
POBJEDA: Who manages this international organisation?
MUSIC: The international Agreement envisages the management tools. All members participate equally, and ReSPA Governing Board is composed of ministers responsible for public administration or EU integration in the governments of member countries. In case of Montenegro, Minister Brajovic is its Governing Board member.
I think that in all ReSPA founding states there is visible awareness of the political importance of this international organisation, but also the practical need for cooperation, even, if you wish, the economic justification of the whole project, particularly when it comes to the common need of all the countries involved to have access to easier, cheaper and more efficient training delivery for its civil servants on their path to EU.
POBJEDA: How is ReSPA financed?
MUSIC: For the time being we have dual sources of finance. The primary source comes from member state contributions. Namely, by ratifying the Agreement each founding state committed to paying equal annual contributions to ReSPA, regardless of their size or economic power. For this year, such contribution amounted to 150,000 euros, individually for each member state. At a recent Governing Board meeting in Tirana it was decided for the amount of contribution to remain the same in 2012. This means that we have the annual budget of 900,000 euros.
POBJEDA: You mentioned, however, two sources of finance…
MUSIC: The second source of finance was secured by us in ReSPA, and I would, somewhat immodestly, say through my efforts as the director, by ensuring the direct EU support for continuation of our activities. In late November last year I signed a Grant Agreement with the EU worth 2.4 million euros. This agreement clearly stipulates the purpose to which the funds may be spent. These may not be used for staff salaries or similar reimbursements, but solely for core activities of ReSPA. This is a two-year agreement, but we are already thinking of the new arrangement with the EU to secure such support for the future.
POBJEDA: Did the EU provide financial support for ReSPA opening?
MUSIC: Yes, the EU previously provided some 900,000 euros for furbishing the facilities in Danilovgrad. It was the EC grant for procuring the furniture and the IT equipment.
POBJEDA: Are you personally satisfied with the performance in the first year?
MUSIC: Given the circumstances under which ReSPA started operating, with few staff – for half a year I was practically alone in the school – I am very satisfied. With the assistance of the European Institute for Public Administration based in Luxembourg, we developed recruitment procedures for ReSPA staff. Today we have here 12 members of staff from the region – from Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Skopje, Podgorica… At the symbolic level, it is also a good illustration of regional cooperation. With the staff in place, from May this year onwards we took over the organisation of seminars and training events, which is a very complex task, organisationally and expertise-wise. I am glad we are on top of it. On average, we have had two to three training events each month, and have constantly increased the scope of our activities.
POBJEDA: Who are the trainers in ReSPA?
MUSIC: Initially we mostly hired experts from European public administration schools, but as of the last six months we are increasingly more including the experts, or as we call them, trainers from the region, because we believe that the region has huge expertise available in this field.
POBJEDA: Does your work programme include only the training of civil servants?
MUSIC: I will reiterate that ReSPA is not just a school, but a unique cooperation centre, thus we increasingly more engage in networking of public administrations in the region, establishing new forms of cooperation. We actually provide a forum, a space, a platform for cooperation – we had with us secretaries general of governments, then people directly involved in EU integration, and these days we are organising a similar event for people dealing with the e-government, that is the electronic provision of services to the citizens of our respective countries. These are all good toolss for strengthening regional cooperation.
POBJEDA: What is the long-term agenda of ReSPA?
MUSIC: In a foreseeable future this is certainly going to be a centre whose priorities will be set here, within our region, and will be in the function of strengthening public administrations in our respective countries. The Feasibility Study for ReSPA development, done back in 2004, set the phased development of this international organisation into three stages – the first, virtual stage, before actual establishment, when its functions were performed by European institutions; the second stage of its actual establishment, building its internal capacities and its definition as a legal entity; and the third stage of introducing some academic dimensions. This goal implies the introduction of specialised, most probably post-graduate studies, whose primary target group would be the civil servants from the region, focusing on topics within public administration and EU integration domains.
POBJEDA: Are the participants of your events granted any certificates?
MUSIC: Once we have attained this academic level, I expect our certificates, accreditations or diplomas to be equally recognised in all countries of the region, and all EU member states.
POBJEDA: The official language in ReSPA is English. Why?
MUSIC: Yes, that is correct, the official language of ReSPA is English. All official internal and external correspondence is done in English. Although most of us working here could easily understand each other in all our respective languages, I think it is a good solution. On one hand, because of our colleagues from Albania and Kosovo, and on the other, because of virtually daily communication with European institutions regarding the delivery of our programmes.
POBJEDA: You come from Sarajevo. How do you feel in the new working environment in Montenegro?
MUSIC: I have recently become a resident of Podgorica, I rented a flat there. It has become much easier since the colleagues arrived and I am not so lonely as half a year ago. Personally, I feel very comfortable and nice in Montenegro, and I think my colleagues from Belgrade, Zagreb, Skopje, share this impression. This is not courtesy, I do feel good in Montenegro.
Montenegro Had the Best Host Country Offer for ReSPA
POBJEDA: How come that Montenegro, or Danilovgrad was chosen for ReSPA seat?
MUSIC: I was not directly involved in the process at the time this decision was made, I have been here since 15 December 2010, but I know that all the countries of the region were eligible to apply for ReSPA seat following the expression of interest called by the European Commission. As I recall, Sarajevo was also one of the applicants which did not pass the first round, after which BiH supported the candidacy of Montenegro, i.e. Danilovgrad.
POBJEDA: Who made it to the second round?
MUSIC: Ohrid, Beograd and Danilovgrad made it to the second round. To put it simply, Montenegro had the best offer as deemed by the Selection Panel composed of the members of EC, OECD from Paris and several representatives from our region. It was a highly competent Selection Panel choosing Montenegro, Danilovgrad for the ReSPA seat following a set of predefined criteria.
POBJEDA: What weighed in favour of Montenegro?
MUSIC: The support we enjoy in Montenegro is quite substantial. There is evident commitment of all countries of the region to this project, but particularly so in the case of Montenegro. It is well illustrated by the fact that Montenegro invested more than five million euros in the reconstruction of the existing building in the vicinity of Danilovgrad and the construction of the accompanying accommodation facility for participants of ReSPA events.
POBJEDA: What status does ReSPA now have in Montenegro?
MUSIC: The School was inaugurated on 11 November last year, and the international agreement for its establishment envisages that it is constituted as an international organisation sharing all the status and other features enjoyed by such an entity.
With Montenegro, ReSPA signed the Host Country Agreement governing mutual relations, including the use of the facilities in Danilovgrad. This Agreement was signed this June with Montenegrin Ministry of Foreign Affairs, duly authorised by the Government. As envisaged by the Agreement, ReSPA, like other international organisations, enjoys the status of a diplomatic mission in Montenegro with all the accompanying privileges – inviolability of premises, extra territorial status, etc.
I have to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headed by Minister Rocen has been very cooperative throughout the process and provided substantial support to the very definition of such relations, but also acted very supportively in addressing a number of technical matters that needed to be tackled meanwhile.
Suad Music was born in Sarajevo in 1965. He completed his primary and secondary school there, as well as the School of Law, and then the postgraduate European Studies. He spent the bulk of his career in the administration of Sarajevo and the state administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the Dayton Peace Treaty, he worked as a public administration and EU integration expert with the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly in the public administration reform. From his previous post of the Deputy Coordinator for administrative reform with the BiH Council of Ministers, he assumed the post of the Director of the Regional School of Public Administration in Danilovgrad on a five-year contract.
He is married and the father of two children. His family is still in Sarajevo, but are seriously considering moving to Montenegro.Archive