EU's Bosnia Police Mission Is 'Laughing Stock'
EU's Bosnia Police Mission Is 'Laughing Stock'
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

EU's Bosnia Police Mission Is 'Laughing Stock'

It is vital that the European Union develops a common European Security and Defence Policy to deal with security threats both on its borders and, as is increasingly common, in more far-flung trouble-spots throughout the world. The first real test of a common EU Security and Defence Policy has been the EU Police Mission (EUPM) to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which replaced the oft-maligned UN-run International Police Task Force (IPTF) at the beginning of 2003.

The EUPM was given the crucial task of overseeing police reform in Bosnia, which is the only remaining roadblock to Bosnia beginning negotations with the EU on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). To ensure the success of the mission, the EU has allocated significant resources, giving the EUPM an annual budget of €38 million for the period 2003-05, significantly more than the €20m allocated to the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which oversees the implementation of the Bosnian peace process.

Yet, despite the enormous investment, the EUPM has largely failed to meet its goals. No matter what criteria are used to assess EUPM performance, the indicators are depressing. The EUPM was supposed to make local police more efficient crime fighters. But Bosnian police statistics indicate that crime has jumped since the EUPM's mandate began: in 2004, crime increased 22% in Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity of Bosnia) and 32% in the Bosniak/Croat Federation. War criminals are also an ongoing problem. Although the Republika Srpska government's Srebrenica Report listed hundreds of participants in that massacre who are still police officers on active duty, the EUPM has not acted on this information.

The EUPM has interpreted its weak mandate in the narrowest possible fashion, avoiding many responsibilities. The mission is deployed arbitrarily and tasks police officers to design and run public administration reform, an area where few have relevant training or experience. It often receives under-qualified officers from contributing countries, who lack proper training or any introduction to the mission and many lack sufficient English, the official language of the mission. Perhaps most damningly, Bosnian police in both entities regard the EUPM as a laughing stock.

Credit for the EUPM's only success, the state-level police agency, SIPA, must be shared with the OHR and the UK government. Otherwise, the EUPM has not contributed significantly to security sector reform or supervision.

The weak EUPM mandate to "monitor, mentor and inspect" was premature. A more authoritative mandate, similar to the IPTF, was needed to kick Bosnian police forces into shape. A senior EUPM official told the International Crisis Group categorically that the current mandate "is not working" and would only have been suitable in perhaps five years' time.

The EUPM was heralded as "police reform by police officers". Yet, in reality the challenge is much wider. Supervising each and every policeman in the country, as the IPTF was charged to do, may be termed a "police mission". But the design and management of EUPM projects to monitor the police at the most senior levels call for the more demanding job of public administration reform. This in turn requires highly experienced civilians with expertise in finance and project management. It also takes an understanding of the complexities of post-war development in Bosnia and the pervasive influence that ethnic politics has in all spheres of public life, particularly in police matters.

Keen to score an early success for its nascent European Security and Defence Policy, the Union underestimated both the size and complexity of the task in Bosnia. The EUPM took over poorly prepared, lacking inspiration and expertise on how to devise an effective strategy for "Europeanising" the police. With only a few months left in its mandate, little has been done to establish a tightly structured, effective, and well-financed Bosnian police force. As an EU official candidly acknowledged, "achieving the desired end-state of the a daunting task. We are clearly not there yet".

The EU will be charged with supervising any agreed police reforms and Brussels plans to renew the EUPM's mandate when it expires at the end of 2005, broadening it only slightly to include police reform and restructuring and the fight against organised crime.

Unfortunately, the EUPM has proven so ineffective and has acquired such a negative reputation among both Bosnians and internationals that it should be scrapped and replaced with a new organisation that can begin with a clean slate. It is essential that this new police mission receive a far more robust mandate, similar to that of the IPTF, with the expectation that it would be used to remove recalcitrant police officials.

Lack of police reform is now the only issue preventing Bosnia from beginning SAA negotiations. It would be a shame for the country to fall short because EU institutions tasked to assist Bosnia have themselves failed.

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