"The peace agreement for Bosnia is the most ambitious document of its kind in modern history, perhaps in history as a whole,” wrote Carl Bildt, the first High Representative, in 1998. The Bosnian constitution was agreed in Dayton in three weeks of intense negotiations in November 1995. It took many years for a comprehensive debate to start on how it should be reformed. To this day, no common vision of constitutional change has been agreed.
Immediately after Dayton, the implementation of the existing agreement had priority over any discussion of changing it. At the time, nationalist parties from the former warring sides were strongly resisting implementation of key parts of the Agreement.
Bruce Hitchner, the Chairman of the Dayton Peace Accords Project at Tufts University in Boston, has described this process:
"Warring sides were prepared to continue their struggle by political means. As a result, the Dayton Peace Accords and the constitution devolved rapidly from an interim solution to a virtually fossilized governing instrument. The international community, fearful that renegotiation of the accords would reignite conflict, acquiesced to this interpretation and focused its energies on keeping the peace, directly confronting nationalist obstruction to implementing the accords, and merely tinkered with reform around the edges of Dayton."
Prof. Bruce Hitchner. Photo: tuftsjournal.tufts.edu
The central BiH government had been granted only limited responsibilities under the Dayton Accord. Over the years, however, these responsibilities were strengthened through the transfer of competences from the entities to the centre. Under the pressure from the international community, key elements of a central state structure were put in place: a state border service; a unified intelligence service; security, defence, and justice ministries; a state-level value-added tax (VAT); a State Court and prosecutor; criminal and criminal procedure codes; as well as a civil service commission.
In 2003, in a major step-forward, the state-level Presidency assumed central command over the armed forces. A central BiH Defence Ministry was established in 2004, and a unified chain of command for the three previously separate armies was introduced. Since 2006, the tax and customs administration is also unified and operational.
When Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the CoE in April 2002, the CoE Parliamentary Assembly concluded that:
"The state institutions should be strengthened at the expense of the institutions at Entity level, if need be by a revision of the constitution."
In 2005, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe issued a report – later adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly – warning about the need for further reform.
"With such a weak state Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be able to make much progress on the way towards European integration. The negotiation of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU requires institutions at the State level with the necessary capacity and expertise to deal with the wide range of issues covered by such agreements."
Paddy Ashdown and Javier Solana. Photo: ohr.int
The European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, noted on 16 May 2005:
"The time will come when BiH politicians will agree that constitutional change is required