A Common Western Policy Pivot

Outline for a Common Western Policy Pivot on BiH:
A new DPC Policy Brief

By Bodo Weber & Kurt Bassuener

Executive summary and Recommendations

Recent popular unrest and protest in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), driven by a lack of political accountability and a dire socio-economic reality, caught all established interests – including the political elite and international actors – off-guard. While the initial instances of violence have thankfully not been repeated, the full political spectrum raced to deflect popular opprobrium by kindling ethnic fear, or harness it politically. The situation remains volatile. Even if the protest movement dissipates, the deep social frustrations that underlie it will continue to simmer and eventually find another outlet – with the potential for violence which could be diverted ethnically.

The EU, which has steered the international approach toward BiH since 2005, has yet to develop a credible reaction. The European Commission’s proposal for more “Structured Dialogues” on a wider range of topics will just pile new failure upon a three-year history of counterproductive policy. Croatia’s still-underdeveloped policy proposals would combine the EC’s false hope in “pre-screening” with a co-optation of EU policy by an ethnically skewed Croat-centric focus.

Long-diverging situational assessments among the EU membership, also reflected in the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board, have hobbled an effective policy approach to date. Germany’s policy since early 2010 has formed the foundation of the current failed EU approach. It is presently the center of gravity for common EU foreign policy. Recent public statements have indicated that Germany is willing to take a more active foreign policy role. As with Kosovo, a German-British joint policy initiative would attract enthusiastic American backing and form the nucleus of a long-overdue pan-Western policy approach. The basic outlines of this policy shift (further elaborated in the full memo) are the following:

  • Base its EU integration policy on strict application of conditionality;
  • Send a clear message defining the framework for Bosnia’s future development – no change of borders, no RS secession, no centralized state, no third entity. A functioning state can be designed and agreed among BiH citizens within these parameters.
  • Neutralize the ability of politicians to perpetuate and leverage fear by re-establishing respect for the basic Dayton rules – and recognition that they will be enforced until they are replaced by a new constitutional order;
  • Make use of all available tools to confront political elites and actors who block, undermine, or fail to advocate credible reforms; and
  • Build a popular constituency for this approach with citizens.
  • Immediate measures to prevent post-unrest violence and pre-election destabilization;
  • Division of labor between EU institutions and Dayton instruments;
  • A new approach to using the EU’s integration structures and tools;
  • A more prudent financial assistance policy; and
  • Building a real partnership between the EU and citizens for a functional BiH.

Given Germany’s policy to date, it is imperative that once agreed, such a joint policy be articulated publicly, in BiH, at the highest levels: either foreign ministers or heads of government.Download full paper