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Leaving Dayton behind: constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Sofia Sebastián (16/11/2007) Working Paper

More than a decade on from the Dayton Peace Agreement, which put in place a system of calculated checks and balances between three ethnic groups, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) continues to be mired in political instability and ethnic mistrust.

Nationalist rhetoric has been on the rise since last year’s elections and state level institutions remain weak, poisoning the functioning of the state and Bosnia’s bid for EU membership. While Bosnia’s location on Europe’s doorstep has provided the country with a unique opportunity for stabilisation and integration into the EU, moving towards such a goal has proven problematic.

During the eighteen months in office of International High Representative and European Special Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling, little progress was made on the EU’s two declared priorities, namely the Stability and Association Agreement (SAA) and police reform.

Only at the end of October 2007, as this paper was going to press, did six Bosnian parties sign a much-delayed agreement on police reform; the European Commission was to judge whether this agreement sufficed to sign an SAA, averting the risk of BiH becoming the only country in the region without such an agreement.

This paper examines the dynamics involved in constitutional reform in BiH since 2005. It assesses the shortcomings of the prevailing system of “Dayton democracy”, before outlining the international community’s role in recent attempts to reform this system.

The paper explains why the so-called 2006 “April Package” of constitutional reform failed, and finds that the EU’s rather hands-off and passive stance was one contributory factor. The implications for future European policy towards BiH are discussed.

A key lesson to learn is that in contrast to previous rounds of enlargement, BiH presents a situation where the state remains contested by different ethnic groups. This calls for an adjustment of the “enlargement machinery” that takes full consideration of BiH as a post-conflict country and offers a framework for political stabilisation tailored to the conditions of the Western Balkans.

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Bosnia. Kosovo. State-building. Divided societies. Conflict.

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FRIDE ceased its think tank activities on 31st December 2015 for economic reasons. The Board of Trustees had to take this difficult decision since, despite many efforts to diversify its funding sources, FRIDE cannot sustain its think tank operations with a view to 2016 and beyond.

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FRIDE cesó sus actividades como think tank el 31 de diciembre de 2015 por razones económicas. El Patronato tuvo que adoptar esta difícil decisión dado que, a pesar de los intensos esfuerzos realizados para diversificar sus fuentes de financiación, FRIDE no puede sostener sus operaciones como think tank a partir de 2016.

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