25th Mar 2023

EU peacekeepers face testing times in Bosnia

  • The joint EU force in Bosnia took over peacekeeping duties from Nato (Photo:
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Reservist soldiers in the EU's only peacekeeping mission, in Bosnia, are on "high readiness" in case of outbreaks of violence amid moves toward Serb secession.

"Against the backdrop of increasing war rhetoric, EUFOR Althea [the EU mission] assesses that there is no immediate danger to the safe and secure environment," an EU foreign service report seen by EUobserver on Tuesday (15 February) said. But "the potential for local outburst of violence cannot be underestimated," it added.

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EUFOR Althea has 600 soldiers in Bosnia, from some 20 European countries, under the command of an Austrian general, whose job is to protect implementation of the Dayton Accords - a 1995 deal which ended an ethnic conflict between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks by creating the Bosnia and Herzegovina federation.

EUFOR Althea also has 3,500 reservists and, "in the event of a serious deterioration of the security situation, the operation would activate the reserve forces which are fully-manned and maintained at high readiness to deploy," the EU foreign service paper said.

It was "the main bulwark should the situation develop into a security crisis", the EU said.

The Bosnia tensions come amid French-led ambitions to create a joint EU rapid-reaction force by 2025 as part of European efforts to act with more autonomy on the world stage.

Europe's ability to keep the peace in the Western Balkans will "test the EU's role as a geopolitical actor," the EU foreign service noted.

EU foreign ministers are expected on Monday (21 February) to discuss risks that arose after Mirolad Dodik, the leader of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in the Bosnian federation, recently tabled over 140 laws designed to withdraw from federal institutions this year.

The EU foreign service also proposed an EU "asset freeze/travel ban" on Dodik or his associates as a "last resort measure" if he went ahead with the laws, and asked for ministers' "guidance" on its ideas.

But Hungary continued to oppose sanctions at a lower-level EU meeting on Monday (14 February), diplomatic sources told EUobserver. The Hungarian foreign ministry did not reply to questions.

The EU has 18 military and civilian missions in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. But EUFOR Althea is unusual because it has a UN Security Council executive mandate.

That means it can use force for "self-protection" or "to maintain or as needed restore the so-called safe and secure environment" in Bosnia under Chapter VII of the UN charter, the EU foreign service said.

Bosnia is currently benefiting from a €394.5m EU funding and €1.1bn investment package. But its "dysfunctionality" meant "there is a clearly increasing emigration trend" to EU states, which had been issuing some 60,000 residence permits a year to Bosnians in recent times, the EU foreign service said.

"Corruption is flourishing" and "trust among ruling political leaders has almost entirely broken down", the EU report warned. There was also an upsurge in "historical revisionism, including genocide denial and glorification of war criminals," it said.

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