Since the Dayton Peace Accord was signed 16 years ago, the European Union (EU) has been actively involved in Bosnia and Herzegovina in various capacities and has created a number of local institutions to support its four current missions. At the same time, the complicated state institutional structure in Bosnia means that the EU must simultaneously interact with a number of local and state-level institutions. Mujo Hadzic discussed a central puzzle: Does EU conditionality work in such a complex environment? Given this institutional complexity, Hadzic argued, both the Bosnian government and the EU struggle to speak with one voice, which dilutes the EU's impact and diffuses the energies of Bosnian institutions.

The institutional complexity in Bosnia belies the country's political problems, which further limit its ability to make progress on the EU accession agenda. The EU must also contend with the lack of commitment to EU accession among Bosnian politicians; the domestic and regional political situation, which creates various competing constituencies; as well as the regional security context (especially Kosovo's contested sovereignty), which contributes to ethnic divisions in Bosnia by offering local politicians a symbolic issue on which to focus their disputes rather than finding joint solutions to local problems. Hadzic explained that it has also contributed to emboldening some Bosnian leaders into trying to make independence claims and tear the country apart.

Hadzic described one diplomat's reaction to international state-building projects in Bosnia as a Catch-22: the international community engages with Bosnia in order to improve its institutions, but they are frustrated by the complex institutional structure, which impedes their ability to make improvements. In practice, Hadzic offered both positive and negative examples of EU conditionality at work. The attempt by the OHR and the EU to compel Bosnia to adopt a police reform in 2007 was a clear failure, and its effects can still be felt today. The policy reform debate taught Bosnian politicians how to block EU reforms, and the result was the adoption of a reform on paper only. By contract, the recent EU visa liberalization policy was a success because the EU isolated an issue that was important to the public – visa free travel – and the combination of external and internal pressure forced politicians to cooperate, make concessions and adopt the required reforms.

The success of EU conditionality, according to Hadzic, will depend on the EU's ability to build partnerships with civil society groups in order to recreate the conditions that prevailed during the visa liberalization project. Given the expertise of US policy makers, he also urged the EU to cooperate with the US more closely.

Written by Nida Gelazis
Christian F. Ostermann, Director, European Studies


  • Nida Gelazis

    Former Senior Associate
  • Mujo Hadzic

    Ph.D. Candidate, University of Belgrade and Expert Advisor for Coordination of EU Assistance, European Integration Section of the Government of Brcko District