Since the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the U.S. and Europe have shared a common interest to foster stability in the western Balkans region and to support the country’s progress toward Euro-Atlantic integration. This, however, overshadows the fact that there are some issues on which the U.S. and the European states do not completely agree, most prominently the role of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in the country. This essay analyzes the divergent positions on the OHR and related issues, including the debate on constitutional reform in Bosnia. Being a highly relevant but also highly sensitive topic in Bosnia, a common transatlantic position on the issue is indispensable in order to achieve progress.
Transatlantic Disagreements on the Role of the OHR
Since 1995, Bosnia’s state-building process has been supported by a variety of international actors, among them the Office of the High Representative (OHR). The OHR oversees the implementation of the civilian aspects of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (GFAP). In order to avoid any obstruction to the GFAP, the OHR can adopt legally binding decisions and dismiss public officials from their positions. These so-called Bonn Powers gave the international community the opportunity to regularly intervene in daily politics in Bosnia. In order to strengthen the state-building process, the OHR over the years has established new institutions, among other measures. This interventionist approach has long been supported by the European Union (EU) and its member states. However, in recent years, the OHR has been regarded by many European governments as an obstacle to further progress in the country, particularly regarding Bosnia’s pre-accession process with the EU. Many EU diplomats consider the OHR as an instrument of the past that symbolizes the postwar era, and which should be removed from Bosnia. By replacing the “push from Dayton” with a “pull from Brussels,” the role of the EU is to gradually increase while the OHR activities are to vanish. Consequently, in 2011 the EU de-coupled its EU Special Representative from the OHR and integrated the post into its reinforced EU delegation in Sarajevo.
The activities of the current EU Special Representative, Peter Sørensen, have also been welcomed by U.S. diplomats. The U.S., which still has a huge influence in Bosnia, has supported the EU’s efforts to take on a leadership role among the international actors in the country by and large in the past years. In 2008, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), which directs the OHR, agreed on five conditions and two objectives—the so-called 5+2 criteria—that have to be met by Bosnia before the OHR will leave the country. The OHR closure has repeatedly been postponed, which led to transatlantic disagreements. Many EU member states, including Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Sweden, as well as the European Commission and Russia are in favor of abolishing the OHR, even if the criteria are not yet met. In contrast, the U.S., the UK, and Turkey want to retain the OHR and criticize other PIC members for their attempts to dry out the OHR by reducing the funds and the personnel seconded to the office. Some observers interpret these steps as attempts to establish EU primacy in Bosnia without taking the real situation in the country into account. In fact, the different positions on the OHR are also the result of different perceptions of the security situation in Bosnia.