The EU’s emerging security role in the Western Balkans

, by Elisabeth Alber

The EU's emerging security role in the Western Balkans

In the wake of the violent conflicts that marked the recent history of the Western Balkan region, the EU considers it as a priority to promote the development of peace, stability, prosperity and freedom in the SEE countries. Let’s have a look on how things evolved taking as an example the unstable Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina.

The EU’s noble goal

Since the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995, the EU’s European Security and Defence Policy has been closely intertwined with the unfolding of the ethno-political conflicts and crises in Bosnia Herzegovina. Both, the conflict and post-conflict crises, have forced the EU to do something having had the noble goal of European Integration based on peace and diversity ridiculed in the very close neighborhood.

Consequently, the Balkans became the testing ground for new concepts, structures and capabilities of the ESDP. Security policy was now changed to face the problem of instability and insecurity. This particularly meant fighting threats through conflict prevention, management, peacekeeping and peace building.

The EU’s crisis management – a failure?

In 1992 the EU member states committed themselves to the creation of a common foreign and security policy (TEU, Art. 11). The Treaty of Amsterdam expanded a range of the tasks of the Union (so called Petersberg tasks). In the early 1990s, the Union believed in its role of being a security actor distinct from other organizations and actors because of the range of civilian and military instruments it can bring to bear in a conflict situation.

The EU tried to play a pro-active policy of managing the ethno-political conflicts in the Western Balkans. But too soon the overall management of the various Balkan crises highlighted the external policy shortcomings of the EU policies. Mediation, impartiality and arrangements of cease-fire agreements did not decrease the level of violence.

The overall experience of ineffective European crisis management in the Western Balkans together with the „frustration“ over US dominance led European policy makers rethink established security policies.

A new concept for integrated EU missions

Since its first phase of interventions (1999-2003), dominated by the institutional set-up of decision-making and planning structures, the EU has broadened and refined its international security and defense engagements, both functionally and geographically. The Western Balkan region was the cradle and still is the major catalyst of Europe’s emerging security role; it is the crucial testing ground for the biggest challenge the EU has to face: becoming a civil-military actor in international conflict management policies and develop its institutions and operations accordingly.

The Western Balkan region was the cradle and still is the major catalyst of Europe’s emerging security role

The ESDP policies would have to ground on a ready-made civil-military concept applicable to different contexts and regions bringing alongside the deployment of civilian and military troops under a single mandate and chain of command in order to cover the full spectrum of tasks in the conflict cycle from conflict prevention to post-conflict reconstruction; so far the EU has only mandated parallel missions which were coordinated rather than integrated, lacking often of clarity and consistency in their definitions. Suffering from a generalized lack of respect due to failures in the 1990s, the EU needs to devise solutions that can ensure that the ESDP has the in-built capacity to respond to a crisis not by long deliberation, negotiation and preparation processes, but by a prompt action on the ground.

Too much parallel diversity in unity?

Given the institutional character of the EU as a political entity sui generis, with a plurality of actors enviously guarding their competences and in view of specificity of each ESDP operation, the search for new formula might well turn out as the most difficult mission to realize. As it is the case now, the ESDP remains essentially intergovernmental and the instruments available to support collective EU action are fragile; the ESDP seems rather a product of single operations characterized by the shifting of national strategies and tensions within Europe. The late coming and weaknesses of the ESDP performance show a key tension at the heart of the EU foreign policy: it looks for external effectiveness as a source of legitimacy, yet the internal function of EU foreign policy remains a form of damage limitation for the European integration project itself.

e EU lacks a joint foreign policy in the Western Balkans and thus credibility. The EU has to speak with one voice, to develop a greater sensibility of the context-dependency of their reforms and strike a balance between Europeanization aspirations and particularizing circumstances on the ground, enabling locals to take over ownership of responsibilities. The Reform Treaty of the EU (Lisbon Treaty) is likely to give the coherence of EU’s ESDP another boost, but much of its dynamism will still have to be generated by practical solutions and operational coordination rather than institutional pre-established design.

From Dayton to Brussels?

Taking closer look on the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH), one can see how the EU was involved in several early attempts to resolve the conflict; none succeeded in implementation. Finally, the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) were negotiated with the US as a main mediator between the Parties; they stopped the war in 1995 in BiH (ignoring the waves of instability that the conflict had stirred up in surrounding areas, e.g. Kosovo) and created a system of consociationalism through separate legal arrangements: two entities (the unitary-centralized Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation with its 10 cantons), both being linked by a weak central government level: the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina; (all in all 14 government levels, Brçko included!).

the EU was involved in several early attempts to resolve the conflict; none succeeded in implementation

The resulting institutional complexity and the ethnic national balance created through the Constitution (Annex 4 of the DPA) cemented the divisions by making three „constituent peoples“ and robbed them from the difficult possibility of re-establishing the destroyed common identity of the BiH.

Despite its failures and the relative weak impact of deployed troops (the EU did not enter BiH with a truly integrated approach under a single mandate when taking over from the UN), the EU managed to introduce mission-tailored practices and institutions in order to improve information exchanges, mutual consultations and coordination among the different EU actors and instruments.

Nowadays the EU plays an increasingly role in the BiH. It runs both the civilian police mission and the military peacekeeping force, and it supplied the High Representative (being given Bonn Powers to accelerate the implementation of the DPA), who is also the EU’s Special Representative of the country. Even though the inadequacies of the DPA have to be reformed by the BiH politicians and inhabitants themselves (see e.g. long dispute on police reform approved on 16 April, ongoing constitutional reform talks), the EU offers the track towards EU membership in the light of the Stabilization and Association Agreement signed on 16 June.

Does the EU really have an additional leverage to ensure that conflict settlements are negotiated, implemented and operated to the EU’s liking? Or will the various nationalistic rhetoric upheavals (see results of the elections at communal level on 05 October 2008) overrule all positive signs for reforms, which were elaborated in a extremely laborious way until now?

Image: Bosnia Herzegovina; source:

The Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism pursues studies and applied research on federal, regional and governmental trends in Europe and throughout the world. The scientific approach is mostly based on legal comparison as a method of governance in multi-layered systems. One key research interest is federalism and regionalism as tools for diversity management. Innovative approaches to federalism and regionalism can accommodate diversities between ethnic groups within federal and regionalized systems. One constructive approach is to create institutions and policies that allow for both efficient self-rule and shared-rule and thus provide room for differences. Among others, the Institute has a research focus on the Western Balkans and studies the nucleus of rules, processes and practices that influence the exercise of powers at European level.

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