New international envoy in BiH to be the last … again

166.jpgBosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has a new top international envoy. Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak took over the post of high representative and EU special representative (EUSR) on July 1st, succeeding Germany’s Christian Schwarz-Schilling.

Lajcak, 44, is a career diplomat with extensive experience in Southeastern Europe. He is best known for his role in overseeing the 2006 independence referendum in Montenegro, while serving as EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana’s personal representative. His appointment as the new high representative won support from a broad group of countries that make up the Peace Implementation Council for BiH (PIC). They hope he will help turn around the recent deterioration in BiH’s political climate, and set the country back on track towards integration.

As EUSR, Lajcak will continue to offer the EU’s advice, promote overall Union co-ordination, and provide political guidance to the EU Police Mission (EUPM) and EU Forces (EUFOR). He will press for full co-operation by the local authorities with the UN war crimes tribunal, as well as for progress in constitutional reform.

Along with the job of the high representative comes the so-called Bonn Powers, which include the right to dismiss any local official who violates the BiH Constitution and the Dayton Peace Accord. The extent to which he will use these powers is a subject of considerable interest in BiH. Schwarz-Schilling began his tenure with a pledge not to resort to them. He believed that BiH politicians must take responsibility for steering their country towards the EU.

During Schwarz-Schilling’s relatively short mandate of one and a half years, however, the momentum towards reform stalled. Key political figures in BiH turned to inflammatory nationalist rhetoric, which became suggestive of the pre-war atmosphere. An overhaul of the country’s labyrinthine police system is a key precondition for signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the Union, a milestone that could have been reached this year. An agreement, however, has proven elusive. Similarly, BiH has been urged to make major changes to the current state composition — which is seen as complicated, inefficient and expensive — but this too has run aground.

Such backsliding was not what the international community — which had judged the time ripe for closing the Office of the High Representative — expected. Some blame Schwarz-Schilling, saying his less forceful approach allowed conditions to stagnate. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, however, the outgoing envoy suggested the West had simply overestimated BiH’s readiness to take over control of its future.

“Everyone thought everything was fine and that the formulas for compromise from above, which hadn’t even properly arrived at the bottom, were now functioning,” he said. “They didn’t even see that they only function because the high representative enforces them with his power.”

It remains to be seen whether Lajcak will adopt a more interventionist approach, like Schwarz-Schilling’s predecessor Paddy Ashdown. In his statements to the local press so far, however, the Slovak diplomat has cautioned against viewing the Bonn Powers as the answer to all problems.

“The reforms are the key for this country’s future and its politicians have to realise that,” Lajcak said.”But the reforms cannot be implemented with repressive measures. You can not join the EU with the Bonn Powers [imposed] from outside.”

In a farewell speech, Schwarz-Schilling noted the difficulty that the high representative faces in co-ordinating policy among international capitals. The PIC Steering Board, at a meeting on June 18th and 19th, pledged to make this easier, and to provide the envoy with better support. Among other assets, Lajcak has the benefit of substantial prior experience working with European leaders, including Solana.

“I look forward to working with Ambassador Lajcak, who has my full support, and I wish him every success,” Solana said as the transition took place. He also expressed gratitude to Schwarz-Schilling for his dedication and work.

Lajcak’s new job is the latest in a succession of duties that have taken him to the Balkans. Between 2001 and 2005, he was based in Belgrade as Slovakia’s ambassador to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later Serbia and Montenegro), Albania and Macedonia. From 1998 to 2001, he was Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan’s chef de cabinet. Concurrently, between 1999 and 2001 he was special assistant to Kukan in his capacity as special envoy of the UN secretary-general for the Balkans. He is fluent in English, German, Russian and Bulgarian, as well as in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.

Lajcak has a law degree from Commenius University in Bratislava. He studied international relations at the State Institute of International Relations in Moscow, and is also a graduate of the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies in Germany. He is married to a famous Slovak TV star, Jarmila Hargasova, with whom he has two daughters.

The new high representative has said that EU member Slovakia’s experience, as an ex-Soviet bloc member and part of the former state of Czechoslovakia, could prove valuable for BiH. He is the sixth person to be appointed to the post, following Sweden’s Carl Bildt, Spain’s Carlos Westendorp, Austria’s Wolfgang Petritsch, Britain’s Paddy Ashdown and Germany’s Schwarz-Schilling. Bosnians are hoping that Lajcak will, indeed, be the last. But for that to be the case, local politicians must be ready to contribute.

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