EU and NATO in Bosnia

Last Friday, Gulnur Aybet, Neven Andjelic and myself organized our last workshop in the framework of our British Academy Project in Sarajevo at CIPS (a formal report to follow soon here). It was a very rewarding discussion with NATO & EU officials , representatives of Bosnian institutions and some researchers. The few politicians present arrived, chatted with each other and left soon–no surprise, even if disappointing as usual. What emerged from the discussion was that a handover from OHR to EUSR is very likely in 2009 (no surprise) and that there is as of yet no clear plan to what competences the new EU mission would have. Some countries (esp. UK, USA) favor some residual Bonn powers to be transferred to the new mission so that at least in theory it could use them if certain red lines are crossed, most EU countries appear satisfied with a weaker mandate which merely combines the head of the EC delegation and the EUSR, comparable to Macedonia. What seems most likely is an intermediate construction where the EUSR would have a stronger mandate than in Macedonia and would be able to act as a mediator if disputes arise–however how this can be accomplished without the Bonn powers (or any alternative mechanisms which are beyond some minimal role) remains unclear to me.

Unsurprisingly, some international officials take a more security focused line–the most important security issue is Brcko. Brcko is literally the “safety pin” which holds Bosnia together. As long as there is Brcko, independence for the RS without the use of force (or at least threat thereof) is impossible (even without Brcko it is doubtful how much Dodik pursues the agenda of independence in earnest). This is partly why Brcko has been at the center of many debates in Bosnia recently. Not only is the confirmation of the status in a new constitution (or in law otherwise) a condition for the closure of the OHR, the formation of government in Brcko has also been particularly controversial in recent months. Finally, it has also been one of the sticking points in the Prud agreement–whether its status should be protected by constitutional amendments or by a constitutional law (a tool that does not exist to date in BiH).

Beyond these discussions there is little strategy on how to re-energize the reform process in Bosnia and how to make use of EU integration in this regard. While it seems rather clear that good parts of the elite are not genuinely committed to EU integration–at the same time as rhetorically favoring it–there is little understanding on how to pressure elites effectively to translate words into deeds.

During one interesting workshop session the question emerged whether citizen’s support for EU integration is in fact conditional. Some analysts noted that the high number of support for EU integration (approx. 80%) would drop sharply, if linked to certain sacrifices, such as abandoning entity police forces (not an EU requirement anymore). Thus, the conditional support of BiH politicians for EU integration was in the eyes of some participants actually an adequate reflection of the citizens reservations about unconditional support for the EU. My hunch is that this might be true, but only because the largely abstract goal of EU integration is intangible, while the possible sacrifices appear to be more tangible and immediate. Here, the EU needs to explain much more specifically what the cost of non-membership are and what burden delays mean for citizens.

Oh yes, and happy holidays.

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