Every week a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


Stefan LehneVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

The EU may not have failed yet, but the sudden explosion of public anger shows that the current situation is unsustainable, and time is of the essence.

Protesters in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not waving EU flags like those in Kiev, but they are not burning them either, as demonstrators sometimes do in Athens. The protests have their roots in Bosnia’s deep economic misery, and are directed against the country’s self-serving and corrupt political elite. EU officials who have negotiated endlessly with the current political leadership on reforming dysfunctional institutions share some of this frustration.

Yet the international community, including the EU, bears some responsibility for the current state of affairs. As Bosnia for a long time appeared stagnant but stable, the international community became distracted by more urgent business elsewhere, and lacked the determination to overcome obstacles to reform. The hope was that, over time, Croatia’s EU membership and Serbia’s progress toward accession would pull along Bosnia, too. The EU also focused too much on constitutional fixes and neglected the deteriorating economy.

That cannot go on. Now, there is no alternative to urgent economic and political reform. The drive for change has to come from the local population. But the EU too needs to raise its game and help Bosnia finally move forward.


Milan NičDirector of the Central European Policy Institute in Bratislava

Bosnia was failed primarily by its own leaders. But the EU shares part of the blame.

For almost two decades, while many Central and Eastern European countries have been pursuing reforms, Bosnia’s leaders have become champions of the status quo. State administration eats up some 40 percent of gross domestic product, and unemployment is persistently high at around 44 percent. In a country deeply divided between Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats, successive governments have created a corrupted elite based on parallel ethnic patronage.

As for the EU’s efforts in Bosnia, two elements have not worked. First, the strategy of talking exclusively to the leaders of Bosnia’s six main political parties has ignored the country’s bleak economic prospects and society at large. Second, conditioning Bosnia’s EU progress toward accession on unpalatable changes to the country’s constitutional and electoral law (implementing a 2009 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on the notorious Sejdić-Finci case on racial and ethnic discrimination) was unfair and unproductive.

Yet the lack of progress is not for a lack of trying: civil society engagement has been an EU priority in recent years, and the European Commission is now pursuing a bilateral economic dialogue with Bosnia. Unfortunately, that is not part of the body of EU law that aspiring members must adopt, so it is not underpinned by the legal or political instruments required to enforce it.


Alison SmaleBerlin bureau chief of the New York Times

Judging success or failure in Bosnia goes beyond just the EU. It took the skills and perseverance of U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke to end the bloodshed in late 1995 with the complex Dayton peace accords. Among other provisions, that agreement offered Bosnia’s nationalist leaders a chance to reward their allies-in-arms during war with posts of political and economic influence in what was, at first, a highly tenuous peace.

From the point of view of early 1996, much has been achieved. Yet when assessing today’s situation against the backdrop of large flows of aid, foreign forces, and other outside help, Bosnians and the international community alike have every right to feel disappointed.

A trip to Bosnia these days suggests that little can move forward without an overhaul of the arrangements bequeathed by the Dayton agreement. Of the international bodies in Bosnia, the EU probably has the largest formal role. But can it take on this new task, in addition to Ukraine, Kosovo, and many others?

The author writes here in a strictly personal capacity.