26th Sep 2022


Why is Germany rushing a new Bosnia high representative?

  • Christian Schmidt, pictured here in 2017 at an EU Council meeting (Photo: Council of the EU)

With the nomination of Christian Schmidt to serve as the next international high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the German government risks putting a personnel decision ahead of a policy debate.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), tasked with coordinating international actors and ensuring implementation of the non-military components of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, has languished for a decade and a half, most of that period under Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Germany, then newly under the leadership of chancellor Angela Merkel, was instrumental in forcing a change of transatlantic course by the nomination in 2005 of Christian Schwartz Schilling as High Representative, after the interventionist tenure of Britain's Paddy Ashdown.

The move was part of a joint EU-US decision to shift to a policy that, in the name of "local ownership," further entrenched the power of incumbent elites, who rule through fear and patronage and have proven to be remarkably resistant to reform.

Schmidt's nomination came to public attention in an apparent leak just before Christmas.

Following nearly a month of official silence, Germany is now trying to sell Schmidt's nomination as an attempt to breathe new life into the institution.

With the nomination, "Germany is taking the initiative to put [Bosnia and Herzegovina] again on the international political agenda," the German foreign ministry said in announcing it.

Yet there is no credible evidence so far that Schmidt's candidacy is the result of a German change of heart on what to do with the OHR, let alone a political strategy on how to support Bosnia in its stalled EU accession course.

Without any explanation offered by Berlin on the timing of its initiative, the suspicion lingers that Schmidt was positioned to pre-empt possible moves by the incoming Biden administration to re-engage with the Balkans, and especially Bosnia.

A series of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Dayton accords in November seemed to suggest that the administration might take a more active role in Bosnia.

Why the rush?

Schmidt's nomination, on 20 January – the day of president Joe Biden's inauguration – feeds doubts that the move is really intended to strengthen the OHR. Why the rush? Why suddenly replace Inzko now, after 12 years of inaction?

There may well have been some foreshadowing in mid-December, when Germany's current ambassador to the United Nations and longtime policy advisor to chancellor Merkel, Christoph Heusgen, intimated that some strengthening of the OHR might be required, including reconstitution of the executive 'Bonn Powers', which enable the High Representative to take such actions as annulling laws, imposing them, and removing from office political leaders for violations of the Dayton Accords.

These have only been effective when there was Western unity behind the High Representative – and the coercive deterrent now operated by the EU but backed by Nato, EUFOR, was credible.

In the same conference appearance, in response to a question posed by one of the authors, Heusgen declined to endorse restoring EUFOR's deterrent capacity.

The wider policy context feeds concern as to Germany's disposition toward transatlantic strategic cooperation in the aftermath of Trump.

The EU, during the German presidency, signed a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China last month.

Nord Stream 2, stalled by US sanctions, remains a divisor.

On issues in the Balkans, when faced with the opportunity to confront policy failures, Berlin demonstrates a deep-seated impulse to sidestep the hard choices.

This was evident just over a year ago, in response to French president Emmanuel Macron's applying the brakes to accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania in spite of progress made in those countries; and in the process raising problems with the EU's enlargement policy to the political level.

Germany preferred to find a modus vivendi with Macron through a new accession methodology, but without addressing the wider reasons why much of the region is backsliding on democracy and rule of law, in spite of holding an "enlargement perspective."

On matters where Germany undeniably led – on migration in 2015 and in resisting calls for a "land swap" between Kosovo and Serbia from 2018 to date – Merkel's leadership was reactive.

Similarly, on strategic matters, Merkel clearly prefers continuity and incremental change at most, illustrated as well by her weighing in to support for new CDU leader Armin Laschet.

In the absence of any clarity from Berlin, all these factors imply a preference for continuity rather than a shift in policy toward Bosnia and Herzegovina, or at least no clear idea on a policy shift.

If borne out, this would signify a wasted opportunity. It would mean doubling-down on muddling through.

Schmidt's nomination should trigger a policy discussion among the transatlantic democracies on Bosnia, not forestall or substitute for one.

We have indicated elements of such a debate in a recent paper, dispelling the myth that the only way for the international community to engage in Bosnia is through either imposed solutions, or through an - reliance on local elites ("ownership"), which while declaratively stating they want to meet EU standards, in practice demonstrate their deep unwillingness to reform.

What the situation calls for instead is employing the coercive advantage of a transatlantic consensus to create an environment in which focused engagement by citizens to define a vision for a new social contract can be articulated.

Our paper described this top-down, bottom-up dynamic as a "pressure sandwich" aimed at squeezing an elite that has no incentive to change the status quo.

Germany's nomination has initiated a policy discussion in the worst possible fashion – by indicating a lack of coordination among the Western democracies and a strategic void.

Now that discussion must begin with the new US administration and other democratic partners, starting with an honest situational assessment of where Bosnia is, and why, 16 years after Berlin's last personnel decision.

Author bio

Dr Kurt Bassuener and Toby Vogel are co-founders and senior associates of the Democratization Policy Council.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU: Bosnia 'sacrificing' homeless migrants

The European Commission is providing an additional €3.5m of humanitarian aid to help migrants made homeless in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to political infighting.

Lessons from Vučjak migrant camp in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Last week, the Vučjak camp in northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina was finally closed. Termed "The Jungle" by people who were living there, the camp had no running water, no electricity, no usable toilets, and mouldy, leaking, and overcrowded tents.

The EU's perverse agenda in Bosnia

In its quest for a quick deliverable in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union is trying to broker a deal that risks entrenching the power of Croat nationalists who are resisting moves to make the country more functional.

'Ethno-nationalism' is not way forward for Bosnia-Herzegovina

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, tempted by the allure of a 'deliverable', the EU, US, and UK are supporting a political process that would enhance the power of ethno-nationalist leaders, cement ethnic partition, and quite possibly lead to violence.


How to respond, if Moscow now offers peace talks

It is difficult to see how Vladimir Putin can survive more major setbacks or outright defeat. Should this happen, Russia will find itself in a major political crisis. But offering him negotiations now would help him, by easing domestic pressure.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us