EU Bid to Police Bosnia Under Scrutiny

The EU has a number of problems to overcome if it is to take over the UN mandate for policing Bosnia-Herzegovina

EU Bid to Police Bosnia Under Scrutiny

The EU has a number of problems to overcome if it is to take over the UN mandate for policing Bosnia-Herzegovina

The UN's decision last November to end its mandate to police Bosnia-Herzegovina, BiH, appears to have panicked EU officials hoping to replace the force.

This week a second EU fact-finding mission zipped through Sarajevo meeting with international and local organisations in a bid to discover the best way of establishing a follow-on force. Its creation is seen as important for the kudos of the EU which wants to prove it can patrol its own backyard.

European defence policy has weakened over recent months after its Rapid Reaction Force failed to materialise and was then put on the back-burner by the US-led war on terrorism.

A successful mission in Bosnia would go some way to re-establishing the EU's defense strategy.

However, even if they agree to go ahead with the force at the end of this month, it could be June before they are permitted to set up the operation. And analysts are concerned that this will not give them sufficient time to take over from the UN whose mandate ends in December.

The UN announced it would be pulling out of Bosnia at the end of last year after a five year stint. Originally, it was supposed to stay for a year, but so little progress has been made in establishing a local police force that the mission has been extended year after year.

The EU should have made preparations for taking over the policing of BiH months, if not years, ago. Now it is unclear whether it has the time or facilities to establish a force capable of inheriting all the uncompleted UN tasks: helping establish the rule of law, reforming, restructuring and retraining local police forces as well as monitoring and auditing their performance.

Despite the time constraints, there are several factors working in the EU's favour.

An EU police force is likely to improve on the UN's frequently tense relations with SFOR because the latter is manned predominantly by European personnel.

The framework for setting up an EU force in Bosnia is also developing and giving added hope that things could be in place by the end of the year. The EU's Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management, CIVCOM, has already drawn up a selection procedure for officers.

Significantly, almost half of the five thousand-strong contingent of policemen EU member states have pledged have served in the UN force in Bosnia.

In addition, EU officers have experience training and reforming the police in Albania, Mozambique and the Palestinian territories.

Bosnia, however, needs more than a large contingent of beat cops. And it's unclear whether EU can provide the senior personnel required to administer the force - skilled managers, accountants and qualified trainers prepared to serve long terms in the country.

The EU is set to decide whether to go ahead with the force at the end of January and, if it does, will have to wait until February for confirmation by the body overseeing Bosnia's transition - the Peace Implementation Council.

An expected Russian demand for a UN Security Council Resolution on establishing an EU force could delay things another few months.

This would make things uncomfortably tight especially considering the fact that the former UN police force commissioner, Richard Monk, estimated that a follow-on mission would need ten months to prepare.

The EU also needs to be up and ready before general elections due at the end of the year and the arrival of the new international community's High Representative Paddy Ashdown.

Other problems concern facilities for the new force - the UN police contingent has promised its own to other UN agencies. The EU will have, in effect, to start from scratch.

In addition, as the fact-finding missions have borne out, the EU is not at all sure what the UN has achieved as regards developing both a local police force and judicial reforms.

This is all too typical of an organisation known for its complex bureaucracy and inter-organisational bickering. There is enough of that already in BiH and the EU needs to avoid going in if it does not have a clear plan of action.

Only if the EU can address the above questions does it stand a chance of successfully taking over the role of overseeing Bosnia's new policemen. The worrying thing is that it has only just begun to ask the questions.

Daniel Korski works for the International Crisis Group in Sarajevo.

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