ALTHEA: the European Union manages peace-keeping

Article published on Oct. 14, 2004
community published
Article published on Oct. 14, 2004

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The EU was rightly criticised for its lack of action during the Balkan War. Now, the European Union has the opportunity to make up for its absence thanks to ALTHEA.

The Balkan War resulted in the death of thousands of victims right under our noses. Europe turned its back on the conflict, brought about by the personal interests of the 'peace-loving' member states, and the deaths and chaos caused by the Yugoslavian Federation of Tito. This attitude continued until NATO troops bombed the Serbian army which surrounded Sarajevo.

A Tormented History

Bosnia is no stranger to suffering having lived under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries before being passed into Austrian hands in 1908, soon after which it became the country where the First World War started. Bosnia went on to suffer Nazi persecution before becoming subject to Tito's iron reign over Communist Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia). The traditional religious coexistence of the Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox faiths, which throughout centuries had shaped the character of its people, suffered oppression under the Tito regime that limited religious practice and banned the nationalism of the previous century. Nationalism was resurrected after the death of Tito with Milosevich's dream of creating 'The Great Serbia'. Slovenia was the first to escape relatively unhurt from this nationalist Serbian dream as, in terms of Milosevich's nationalism, Slovenia's independence was not too great a loss since it was the only Yugoslav republic without a Serbian minority. However, he aimed to keep the rest of the Yugoslav republics firmly under the control of the 'great Serbian people'. Independence is Bosnia-Herzegovina's dream, but the delirium of the Serbian government is harming minority populations in the federation (above all in Kosovo, birthplace of the Serbian culture and inhabited by 90% Yugoslavs who are of Albanian origin). On the 5th of April 1992, immediately after the plebiscite in which 70% of the Bosnia-Herzegovina population said 'yes' to independence, a war started in Sarajevo bringing suffering and desperation to thousands.

The EU Takes Over

The Cabinet Meeting of the EU made a united agreement that from the 31st December 2004, seven thousand soldiers from European armies would replace the NATO troops which up until now had taken charge of ensuring the completion of the General Agreement of Peace. For the Ministry of Security and Defence, it will be the biggest mission ever to be carried out by the EU under sole command. The lack of action and political will of European institutions at the time of the abuse committed by the Serbian army in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had already been recognised as an independent state by the EU and the US, has been substituted by a true objective of amendment.

A Big Project

ALTHEA is not only the biggest military mission ever carried out by the EU, but it is also the culmination of a strategy of substitution in which the Union takes control in order to fulfil the peace agreements and follow the path of the Stabilisation and Association Process. The strategy of the EU for the region is to bring stability in three ways: the first is the promise of membership into the EU as a main cause for political and economic reform; the second is the establishment of a diplomatic relationship between the ex-Yugoslavian states; the third is the flexibility of the process, allowing each region to progress at its own pace. But this also signifies an important step in the political integration of the existing members of the Union. The rift caused during the Iraq war, where we could not reach a common European decision, seems to be healing itself with this common action. ALTHEA, as well as being politically important, will be a good exercise in management and coordination due to the large number of forces that are going to participate and the sometimes complicated decision making structures that are called upon when it comes to maintaining peace. It is a shame, however, that the European Parliament, the medium that directly represents the citizens of the Union, was not involved in the creation of ALTHEA.

In a world in conflict, it is of vital importance that this policy pursued by the EU makes, in the words of Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, 'small but solid steps' towards greater integration, thus being a convincing voice in the international arena.