European and U.S. Perspectives on Bosnia and Herzegovina

October 19, 2012

On October 19th, 2012, AGI hosted the discussion “European and U.S. Perspectives on Bosnia and Herzegovina” with AGI/DAAD Fellow Dr. Dominik Tolksdorf. The event, at which Dr. Tolksdorf presented his work on the roles of the European Union and the U.S. in Bosnia in the past years and the role of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in the country, was generously supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

The state-building process in Bosnia has been supported by a number of international actors since 1995, including the U.S. and the EU. For the most part, these actors have shared a common interest to foster stability and to support progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

The transatlantic partners have also supported efforts to reform the constitutional system created through the Dayton Peace Accords. The current constitution offers multiple veto points for the ethnic groups in the legislative process, which slows decision-making. It is also considered discriminatory against members of other ethnic groups, i.e. non- Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. So far, the international efforts to foster constitutional reform have failed. While the transatlantic partners have mainly cooperated in this policy field, they cannot agree on the future of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

Because the presence of the OHR and Bonn Powers gives the international community the opportunity to regularly intervene in daily politics in Bosnia, the EU would like to downplay the role of the OHR and increase local power within Bosnia. The EU promotes the idea that its pre-accession conditionality will naturally lead to constitutional reform.

The U.S. is more hesitant to lessen the powers of the OHR and international supervision in Bosnia for fear of a potential secession of the Republika Srpska (RS) from Bosnia. They would like to begin to grant more power to the EU but believe there are too many unresolved issues that even EU conditionality cannot resolve.

Both the EU and U.S. believe that comprehensive constitutional reform in the OHR is currently unrealistic. Ideally, the strengths of both the U.S. and EU should be employed when working towards progress in Bosnia. They both have different degrees of influence, especially on different ethnic groups. Other countries should be encouraged to take part in the state-building process, such as Russia, Turkey, Croatia, and Serbia. And finally, civil society should be consulted with the different constitutional proposals and take charge of the reform process.

Dr. Dominik Tolksdorf holds a PhD from the University of Munich. In his dissertation he examined the European Union’s support to reform processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 2006, he has worked as research fellow at the Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP) at the University of Munich, as senior associate researcher at the Institute for European Studies, and as adjunct assistant professor at Vesalius College at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. In his research, he focuses on the EU’s external relations, including the pre-accession process with the western Balkan states and Turkey, EU neighborhood policies, and the structure of the External Action Service.


Kimberly Frank