The EU and its Balkan Entanglements

Essay, 2006

11 Pages



1 Introduction

2 Assessing the EU’s Past Failure and Future Potential of Conflict Management in the Western Balkans: Permanence of Lacking Capabilities or Emergence of a Distinctive ‘European’ Approach?
2.1 European Views on Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management, 1991-1995: Clear Objectives, but Multiple Strategies
2.2 The Emerging Nexus between ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ Power Policies: Does the EU have a Comparative Advantage in Projecting Regional Stability?
2.3 Kosovo and Beyond: Recognising the Need for Further Substantive and Institutional Adjustments in the EU’s Approach to Conflict Resolution

3 Conclusion: Lessons Learnt or Opportunities Missed?



‘Given their justifiable pride in having created a zone of peace in western Europe—probably the most effective security community anywhere in the world—, it was the savage wars of the Yugoslav succession that presented the EU with its most serious challenge.‘

(Mayall, 2005: 312-13)

1 Introduction

The Balkan wars of the 1990s and NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo at the end of the past decade can be seen as two major catalysts which have triggered various readjustments within the EU’s system of foreign policy-making.

Materially, the EU has been forced to reshape its relations with the countries of South-Eastern Europe, but it has also adapted its post-Cold War foreign policy tools more generally. In terms of overall political strategies, the adoption of new security doctrines (such as the Petersberg tasks[1] ) and the implementation of peace-building initiatives for the Western Balkans (such as the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe or the joint police mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina) have been widely acknowledged as internal and external successes[2] for the EU. These projects were supposed to increase both the operational effectiveness and the long-term credibility of CFSP and CESDP.

Institutionally, the member states have demonstrated a commitment to reinforce their visibility and influence in world politics by establishing the position of a High Representative for the CFSP, a Political and Security Committee (PSC) and a Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit. It was also recognised that restricting CFSP to an ad-hoc arrangement of informal or reactive policies would not be sufficient if the EU’s declared ambition to become a significant international actor was to be taken seriously.

Whereas these substantive and structural innovations cannot be solely attributed to the failure of intra-EU policy coordination at the onset of the Balkan wars (Munuera, 1994: 65), it might well be argued that CFSP experienced a considerable boost only after other actors had criticised the EU’s seeming complacence and self-limitation to the role of a ‘paymaster’ in international security affairs (di Feliciantonio, 1999: 535).[3] Even former critics have admitted that its member states have been able to achieve a much higher degree of coherence after the Dayton Accords had been settled, and inter-state policy coordination has increasingly come to be regarded as a conditio sine qua non for conflict resolution. Partly as a reaction to the mistakes made between 1991 and 1995, a specific ‘European’ approach to preventing and managing security crises appears to have emerged: a foreign policy style which is characterised by a conscious combination of ‘hard’ (military) and ‘soft’ (economic and humanitarian) instruments.

Ultimately, the EU has learnt a lot from its Balkan entanglements. In this essay, I will first trace back member states’ different convictions as to how the resurgence of nationalist conflict and outbreak of violence in Croatia and Bosnia should be tackled (Section 2.1). Secondly, I will outline how these experiences have led the EU to adapt its traditional policies conducted within Pillar One to the objective of developing a more cohesive CFSP within Pillar Two (Section 2.2). Some lessons which have not yet been translated into policy changes will be discussed as well (Section 2.3). Drawing on these insights, I will conclude that the EU has generally been successful in turning its past failure into a future potential, although a number of problems remain (Section 3).

2 Assessing the EU’s Past Failure and Future Potential of Conflict Management in the Western Balkans: Permanence of Lacking Capabilities or Emergence of a Distinctive ‘European’ Approach?

Both neorealist sceptics and neoliberal supporters of the EU’s foreign policy ambitions have conceded that the particular combination of persuasive techniques, economic incentives and normative projection[4] expressed by its ‘stick and carrot’ strategies point out the lasting relevance of civilian power models in Foreign Policy Analysis. A civilian power may be described as ‘an actor which uses civilian means for persuasion, to pursue civilian ends, and whose foreign policy-making process is subject to democratic control or public scrutiny’ (Smith, 2005: 5). Whereas the critics have used similar classifications to suggest that the EU still lacks the necessary capabilities to address matters of ‘life and death’, the optimists keep stressing that its reliance on such measures should not be perceived as an operational weakness, but rather as a normative asset in the establishment of a ‘European’ approach to resolve international disputes.


[1] The Petersberg tasks, established in June 1992, for the first time authorised the EC/EU to request the WEU to draft and implement missions of peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and crisis management.

[2] ‘Internal success’ refers to the issue of policy effectiveness and to the development of new instruments to achieve self-proclaimed policy goals. ‘External success’ is used here to express the degree to which the EU is recognised as an influential actor that can make a difference in international relations.

[3] Nadoll (2000: 81) summarises the neorealist attacks against CFSP in catchy words: it was judged as being ‘too undecided, too slow, ineffective, and—by and large—a failure’ (translation J.-H. P.).

[4] The specific type of normative projection exercised by the EU has been characterised as ‘setting into motion socialisation and identity-shaping processes based on the principles of pluralist democracy, multiparty systems, elections and civil society—plus the rights of minorities‘ (Charillon, 2004: 255).

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The EU and its Balkan Entanglements
London School of Economics  (Department of International Relations)
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Dipl.-Pol., MSc (IR) Jan-Henrik Petermann (Author), 2006, The EU and its Balkan Entanglements, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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