While Miroslav Lajcák, the high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, is confident he can clinch a deal by the self-imposed deadline of 30 September, it is currently difficult to make out even the outlines of a compromise. Bosnia concluded technical talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step towards EU accession, last December, but Union representatives will not put their signature on the agreed text until police reform goes through. The reform package is based on three principles: police regions should be functional rather than political; the police should be financed out of a single state budget; and the police must be removed from political control. But the Bosnian Serbs are unhappy about giving up their own police and have rejected previous proposals to have it absorbed into a unified national structure as foreseen under an EU-sponsored plan. “The EU’s policy of using the SAA is mistaken and based on false premises and assumptions,” said James Lyon, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Belgrade. According to Lyon, there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the approach was working in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Serbia. Tanja Topic, a political observer based in Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srpska, said that past reforms had only happened under international pressure and that Bosnia’s political elites were pursuing particular ethnic interests. Lyon predicted that instead of imposing strong conditionality, Brussels would lower the bar even further since it urgently needed success in the region. In less than two weeks’ time, it will be clear whether Bosnia will be a success story of this type. The EU has insisted for years that a professional, unified police is crucial for a stable Bosnia that no longer needs intrusive supervision under an international high representative. The high representative is an element of the complex system set up by the 1995 Dayton peace deal, which gave far-reaching autonomy to Bosnia’s two entities, the Republika Srpska and a Federation of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. International negotiators went some way towards accommodating the objections of Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, on police reform, in turn prompting Bosnian Muslim representatives to complain that the compromise made the whole exercise pointless. Bosnia is currently locked in a bitter struggle over the future constitutional set-up, with Serbs maintaining a literal reading of the Dayton accords and Bosnian Muslims working toward greater centralisation. Police reform has tangible implications for reconciliation between the former warring parties. The names of some 900 police officers from the Republika Srpska show up on a list of personnel whose units were operating in and around Srebrenica at the time of the July 1995 massacres, which were declared genocide by the International Court of Justice. In July, the high representative dismissed 35 Bosnian Serb policemen over their alleged involvement. The presence of war crimes suspects among law enforcers is a powerful deterrent to the return of displaced persons.If police reform fails, Bosnia would be the only country in the Balkans without an agreement with Brussels, a bitter disappointment for the vast majority of Bosnians who support the goal of eventual EU membership. “The political elite of Bosnia and Herzegovina all say they want European integration,” Lajcák told the EU’s political and security committee in Brussels earlier this month, “but there is an obvious lack of commitment to promote the European agenda and to search for common ground.”The collapse of the SAA process would reflect a failure of the key principle that has guided international policy in the region over the past years – the notion that the prospect of EU integration will be sufficient to put aspirant countries on a reform course. By challenging this principle, Bosnia’s politicians would throw international strategy in the region into disarray – at a moment when neighbouring Serbia is also showing increasing resistance to the siren call of Brussels.