Open regional funds – legal reform
Title: Open regional funds for South-East Europe – legal reform
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia
Lead executing agency: Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)
Overall term: 2007 to 2018
As the countries of South-East Europe are looking to join the European Union and gain membership within international organisations, they face the task of harmonising their existing legal systems with EU law.
In response to demand from partner countries, the Open Regional Fund (ORF) – Legal Reform project has been supporting the process of rapprochement with the EU since 2007, focusing in particular on civil and commercial law and on modernising the way in which justice is administered. The project works with partner countries to align legal conditions with the acquis communautaire and other legal framework instruments. Reform efforts focus on the issues of justice and fundamental rights as well as justice, freedom and security. Taken together, these constitute the backbone of EU rapprochement reforms. In addition, the project provides support to implement new laws effectively and promotes institutional safeguards for the rule of law, the separation of powers and judicial impartiality.
The ORF – Legal Reform project concentrates its efforts on fostering regional cooperation and sharing expertise. Against the backdrop of existing ethnic conflicts in the Western Balkans, most notably between Kosovo on the one hand and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other, this cooperation can assist in overcoming political tensions.
The countries of South-East Europe work together to achieve their national goals of legal reform, particularly in relation to harmonisation with the EU acquis and meeting the Copenhagen criteria. Selected legislation, provisions and the application of civil and commercial law meet the standards relating to the rule of law and fulfil the requirements imposed in the context of EU rapprochement and other international agreements.
The partner countries supported by the ORF – Legal Reform project all face similar challenges, some of which can be solved more successfully by working together. The Regional Fund therefore supports state institutions and civil society in these partner countries in working together within certain areas to adapt their systems of law and justice to the requirements of the EU’s acquis.
Regional exchange is an essential element in successful rapprochement with the European Union. With these objectives in sight, the project promotes:
- the establishment of regional platforms and networks,
- the exchange of experts among the partner countries,
- harmonisation of laws in the region,
- networking between partner institutions and international sectoral organisations.
The project supported the establishment of the South East European Law School Network (SEELS), which comprises 13 law faculties. Not only has this enhanced quality standards for education and professional training in law, it has also led to the establishment of regional teaching and research programmes.
The project has helped to network regional arbitration centres and to harmonise rules on arbitration.
A new law addressing private international law has been passed in Montenegro. In North Macedonia and Montenegro, relevant draft laws have been in the legislative process for some time. Support has been provided for a network of experts on private international law.
The project assisted in setting up the Belgrade Open Pre-Moot, in which university teams compete against one another in simulated legal proceedings, assuming the role of lawyers to represent clients in fictional disputes. The Belgrade Pre-Moot has now become one of the world’s top ten pre-moots, attended by students from around the globe in preparation for the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna. In 2015, more than 600 students from 30 countries participated in the competition.
The project helped set up and has provided support for the Civil Law Forum, through which various legal studies have been conducted. The results of these studies have been discussed by experts at regional conferences and also submitted to policy-makers for incorporation into national laws: a total of 42 outstanding studies in six areas have been presented, each drafted in both the local language and in English. To promote legal discourse at the highest academic level and in consideration of current European developments, these studies have since been made accessible to legal professionals on a broader scale as well as to legislative working groups and all the ministries of justice across the region.
Regional recommendations have been developed to enhance legal protection against discrimination. As a result, an elective training module is currently being created at various law faculties to be offered in future.
In each country, two legal practitioners (judges) have received training through the project to enable them to teach EU law to students at law academies across the region.
The project has promoted the issue of gender equality across all of its measures. This has led to an increase in professional networking among women in the area of alternative dispute resolution. In addition, a large number of women have joined ArbitralWomen, an international network of female arbiters. The project has helped female arbiters gain access to legal cases. Since the beginning of 2015, gender-sensitive lists for arbitration have been available at the region’s arbitration centres.