Challenges to EU and US Policy in the Western Balkans

January 14, 2009 // 11:00am12:00pm

After eight years of relative neglect, James Lyon expressed hope that the Western Balkan region would ascend in U.S. foreign policy priorities under the Obama administration, not only due to the Clinton administration's legacy there, but also because of the crisis that is currently brewing, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Current policy, in which the U.S. has encouraged the EU to integrate the region into its institutional structures, has had variable success throughout the region. While Croatia is very close to being granted member status and Macedonia and Montenegro have made marked progress, the EU enlargement strategy has failed to gain traction in Bosnia or Serbia. Meanwhile, Kosovo creates special challenges, since there is strong opposition to its independence, not only by Serbia but also by certain EU member states.

Lyon asserted that the EU's problems in the Western Balkans are linked to Europe's inability to formulate a clear Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). He argued that this failure has led directly to the deterioration of stability in the region, and especially in Bosnia, and urged the U.S. to assume a more assertive leadership role in the BiH.

Since 2006, Bosnia has been in a political free fall. First, an important opportunity to reform Bosnia's institutional structure was missed when the constitutional reform package was undermined and failed to pass. The international community's High Representative, Christian Schwartz-Shilling, chose not to engage the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in domestic political affairs, opting instead to encourage local authorities to assume greater responsibility for domestic developments. Although the motivations may have been sound, this prolonged period of inactivity left the OHR unable to regain its former power in Bosnia, even after Schwartz-Shilling was replaced by Miroslav Lajcak. Moreover, both international troops and NGOs working in the country have diminished dramatically, leaving the international community with fewer levers of power than before.

With so little foreign interest in Bosnia, local politicians are again invoking the term "war" as the economic and political situation continue to deteriorate. Lyon suggested that the new U.S. administration could facilitate this situation by appointing a special envoy to Bosnia, who might be able to help address problems of disunity among the members of the Peace Implementation Council, the European Union as well as between Bosnian leaders.

Martin Sletzinger, Director, East European Studies, 202-691-4000

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