EU accession process needs security rethink

As Bosnia-Herzegovina begins the slow process of joining the European Union, QCEA has published a paper arguing that little progress will be made until the EU better matches the security requirements it places upon Bosnia to the real needs of citizens.

In recent months, the 28 governments of the EU have accepted the request of the Bosnian government to begin the process of joining the EU by asking the European Commission to formally give an opinion on Bosnia’s readiness to join.

Recent developments offer opportunities for Bosnia’s integration into common European structures, alongside other post-Yugoslav countries. However, there are doubts about whether many Bosnian politicians are really committed to the reforms necessary to become an EU member state.


The process for joining the EU includes 35 chapters of requirements, meeting all of the common standards that have already been agreed between EU countries. Accession is a process that takes many years, but unless there is a change of approach on security it may never happen.

Security is an important issue in Bosnia. For example, the country spends 7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on violence containment.

QCEA’s paper considered three of the most prevalent aspects of insecurity in Bosnia (1. political violence, 2. gender-based violence, and 3. organised crime, including corruption). Our paper concludes that the security requirements that the EU sets for the Bosnian accession process could be improved to better match for the security challenges facing the country.

Nationalist politics and the slow progress on accession

The decision by European governments comes 13 years after Bosnia was formally identified as a potential EU member country. Bosnia could be further ahead on its journey, but progress is significantly undermined by nationalist politics and the social divisions it creates. QCEA’s 2009 report on the Western Balkans describes how nationalism was identified by local peacebuilders as the most significant barrier to lasting security in Bosnia and in the region.

To manage a single accession process with the EU, Bosnia’s constituent parts need to find consensus and work together. The failure to do this remains one of the most difficult challenges facing Bosnia today.

The Brexit referendum put pressure on European leaders to create positive momentum for European integration, but Bosnian accession should not be rushed. The accession process is a unique opportunity for Bosnia to undertake a comprehensive peacebuilding effort, including reforms that will underpin sustainable peace and security in the country.

Stability and security

A founding concept of EU accession is that of stabilisation, or stability. The term is used in the names of EU accession agreements and related policy objectives. A stable territory is often associated with an opportunity to build the social, economic and political structures needed for peace and security. However, across international politics we are increasingly seeing a policy objective of ‘stability’ being used as a means of maintaining unjust structures through force. As the Ammerdown Group, a network of security and peacebuilding professionals argue, stability without justice will not build sustainable security.

However, the result of the stability objective is that European governments have relied too heavily on state-centric approaches to security sector reform in potential EU member states. countries.

Opportunities for justice

A very different example of EU accession criteria cited by our paper is that of mediation. The EU accession process is encouraging Bosnia to introduce court-annexed mediation in specialist pilot courts. Despite the often better outcomes of a mediated resolution for victims, offenders and wider society, only two cases went to mediation in the 12 months to September 2016.

EU encouragement toward use of mediation could lead to more restorative forms of justice, that have the potential of contributing to wider community reconciliation. QCEA’s paper recommends that an assessment of the current mediation capacity should be undertaken, with particular attention given to what support independent grass-roots peacebuilding organisations can provide.

Real security is about relationships between people

Overall, it is time to leave behind concepts of security that limit the accession process to only focusing on a narrow set of state-centric challenges, and to insufficiently address major forms of insecurity, such as gender-based violence.

To read the full paper, click here.

To find put more about networks seeking to rethink security, see:

United Kingdom – The Ammerdown Group, Rethinking Security (2016)

Netherlands – Inclusive Security Group

US / International – Shared Security project of the American Friends Service Committee and Friends National Committee for Legislation.

To see other Quaker publications on the post-Yugoslav countries, see:

QCEA’s report: The EU and the Western Balkans; Grassroots peacebuilding and enlargement (2009)

To Trust a Spark: Living Links with Community Peacebuilders in Former Yugoslavia: A Quaker Initiative (2015), Anne Bennett.

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