European Western Balkans

EWB Interviews: Major General Dieter Heidecker, Commander of EUFOR in BiH

European Western Balkans continues with series of interviews with key people from Western Balkans countries which are involved in European integration process. This time it is our special honor to speak whit Major General Dieter Heidecker. MajGeneral Heidecker assumed command of the EU Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina Operation ALTHEA in December 2012. He was born in 1954 in Kufsteinl, Tirol, Austria. He holds a Master of Philosophy from the University of Vienna. Between 1976 and 1979 MajGen Heidecker attended the Professional Officers education at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt as an infantry officer. He got his commission in 1979 and was transferred to the Infantry Battalion 21. There he held postings as a Platoon Commander, Commander of the 1 st (Alpine Specialist) Company and Planning and Training Officer (S3) in the Battalion HQ. During this period he also had the opportunity to gather international experience, especially by attending Infantry related courses in France and serving with the United Nations. He also had an appointment as a Training Officer at the Theresian Military Academy.From 1997 to 2002 MajGen Heidecker was the Austrian Defence Attache for France, Tunisia, Morocco and Luxemburg with residence in Paris. Being Deputy Commanding General of the Austrian Land Forces in the years 2002 to 2006 he was also responsible for the Inspection within the Austrian Land Forces. Besides German, MajGen Heidecker speaks French and English.

European Western Balkans: At the beginning, Mr. General thank you for your time, and for opportunity to speak with. you. You are commander of EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 2 years and EUFOR Ooperation ALTEHA is basically the fourth international peacekeeping mission in BiH since the time of war. Can you explain EUFOR’s mandate in BiH?

Heidecker 10
Major General Dieter Heidecker, Commander of EU Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina Operation ALTHEA

Major General Dieter Heidecker: The Council of the European Union decided on 12 July 2004 to conduct its first military operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the framework of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Indeed, it is the fourth international peace keeping mission in BiH, following UNPROFOR, and after the signing the Dayton Peace Agreement, the Implementation Force (IFOR) and, a year later, in 1996, the Stabilization Force (SFOR). BiH has been and continues to be a challenging case of post-conflict reconstruction. When lanched, it became a test for the EU, who, for the first time took over the responsibility of peace enforcement in BiH, under the Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Today, EUFOR’s mandate contains two main tasks: an executive one, to support the BiH authorities in ensuring a safe and secure environment in BiH, and, since 2010, a non-executive task, to provide capacity building and training to the Armed Forces of BiH.  EUFOR is well integrated within the overall EU strategy for BiH and, as such, is a true expression of the EU commitment to BiH.

EWB: How has the mission changed over the last 10 years? What have been the biggest challenges?

DH: The main change occurred in 2010, when the European Union Council decided to start providing non-executive capacity-building and training support to the Armed Forces of BiH, within the framework of Operation Althea.  With numerous courses and joint training activities, the capacity building and training efforts form a growing part of our mission, designed to ensure that the AF BiH have the skills to positively contribute to international missions abroad and to provide humanitarian assistance at home.

This is perhaps also the biggest challenge, namely to facilitate the transition of BiH from a security consumer to a security provider and to underline the importance of well-trained armed forces, ensuring safety and security for all citizens of BiH in this process.

EWB: Can you explain your connection with EU institutions, especially EEAS? What is the difference in the role of EUFOR in BiH and the role of other EU Forces in the World?

DH: Based on the Council Conclusions from March 2011, in September 2011, the EU established in BiH a reinforced presence, including the Office of the EU Special Representative, the EU Delegation, integrated through a double- hatted EU Special Representative and Head of Delegation. The third component of the reinforced presence is EUFOR Althea, which operates under the political guidance of the EUSR, as prescribed by the Council Decision appointing the EUSR in BiH. Over the last two years,  we took full advantage of these provisions and developed a mechanism of coordination between the civilian and military components of the EU presence in BiH. This mechanism ensures continous consultation at my and EUSR’s level as well as synchronized reporting and developing an integrated set of policy guidelines through a double-hatted advisory function I share with the EUSR.   Through this mechanism,  a-first-of-its-kind in the CSDP area, we illustrated the full meaning and the validity of the concept of comprehensive approach for EU CSDP. The advantages of this modus operandi in BiH became evident as the profile of the EU increased and the commitment of the EU to BiH was demonstrated beyond doubt.

What makes EUFOR Althea stand out from the other CSDP missions is precisely the complexity of the institutional and political environment within which it operates. BiH is a potential EU candidate country and the mission’s end state is intertwined with BiH’s progress on its integration path. EUFOR Althea is also the only “Berlin Plus” mission, meaning that it is led by the EU but can rely on NATO assets.

EWB: How does institutional cooperation between EUFOR, EUSR, EU Delegation to BiH and OHR work? And within institutions of BiH entities?

DH: I already mentioned the remarkable relations between the EU instruments on the ground; EUFOR, EUSR and EU Delegation. These are fully synchronized instruments implementing the EU strategy in BiH.  As Commander of EUFOR, I am part of the “EU family”, together with the EUSR/HoD and the EU heads of missions.

When it comes to the Office of the High Representative, the bi-weekly Board of Principals offers the opportunity to coordinate and exchange information with representatives of the broader international community including the World Bank, IMF, OSCE, ICTY, UNDP and others.

Then there are regular meetings with local key-leaders, mainly – but not only – with those of the military and security sector.

EUFOR Liaison and Observation teams, situated all around the country, act as a point of contact.  These teams meet with key local leaders and the general population, gaining an understanding of public concerns and the regional situation.

EWB: How is the adoption of international standards, regardless of the integration of BiH into the EU, important for the citizens of BiH? How do you help Armed Forces BiH to achieve international standards?

DH: Generally, international standards are important as they can pave the way for improved economic and social benefits – this can assist in areas such as international trade, and also reassure citizens that internationally-approved processes and procedures are being used, giving them confidence in the system.

EUFOR and AF BiH engineers working together on reconstructing a bridge in Tuzla (which was destroyed by floods in May/June)

This is also important for the Armed Forces of BiH.  Adopting and achieving international standards assists their integration into the international military environment, enhancing their ability to take part in worldwide missions, and also potentially saving resource and effort.  Working together with EUFOR gives the AF BiH the opportunity to understand the benefits of this interoperability.

EWB: What activities has EUFOR been carrying out recently? What do you think the biggest successes of 2014 have been?

DH: As I mentioned, we have been active in our capacity building and training programme, training the Armed Forces of BiH in areas such as crisis management, command and control, peace support operations techniques, engineering, logistics and rescue from minefields.  We have also been assisting local organisations: later this month we will be helping to train two regional mountain rescue service teams.

Without a doubt, the biggest success of 2014 was the EUFOR and Armed Forces BiH humanitarian assistance to local people during the disastrous floods.  This was obviously a terrible time for thousands of people, and I am pleased that in such awful times both EUFOR and the AF BiH were able to respond quickly to help evacuate people and to assist in the clean-up operation.  Our combined assistance continues to this day – we have recently worked together in a bridge building project which was led by the UN Development Programme, to rebuild bridges that were destroyed in the floods.

EWB: What is your personal opinion about the European Union and about importance of integration of BiH, and the region of WB in the EU?

DH: The EU’s enlargement policy continues to contribute to mutual benefits of peace, security and prosperity in Europe. Especially for the countries of the Western Balkans, good neighbourly relations and inclusive regional cooperation are essential. The perspective of EU membership, granted by the EU member states, is thus a key stabilising factor for the entire area. Personally, I think that – in the interest of all the citizens of BiH – it will be highly important that local authorities and political forces increase their efforts to tackle the necessary socio-economic and legal reforms and to progress on the European agenda.

EWB: Thank you General for your time. European Western Balkans wishes you very best in very best in your future activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Author: Nemanja Todorović Štiplija

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