Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans
Title: IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans
Commissioned by: European Union (EU), German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia
Lead excuting agency: Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)
Overall term: 2018 to 2019
The people of the European Union (EU) and the Western Balkans region traditionally have long-standing ties. The EU has supported many reform activities in the Western Balkans during the last two decades. Despite this, addressing reforms in rule of law, fundamental rights and good governance remains the most pressing issue for the Western Balkans and a great concern for the global community (European Commission, 2018).
Therefore, in order to strengthen regional security and to reinforce judicial systems, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Italian Ministry of the Interior (IMoI) signed a Delegation Agreement with the European Commission in December 2017. According to this agreement, GIZ and IMoI are implementing the IPA/2017 Project 'Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans' together with a third implementing partner, the Center for International Legal Cooperation, based in the Netherlands.
The Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans project supports the realisation of cooperation agreements with Eurojust, an EU agency dealing with judicial cooperation, and Europol, an EU agency for law enforcement cooperation, and enhances the communication to better investigate serious and organised crime across borders (for example, through so-called Joint Investigation Teams) and reach just prosecutions.
Regional and national institutions of the Western Balkans and the EU are more effectively cooperating to fight serious and organised crime. This includes combatting illegal migrant smuggling and recovering illegal financial gains obtained through diverse criminal acts.
The project is unique in its practical approach. Each country is supported by a prosecutor from EU member states and a police officer from the IMoI as well as lawyers from the respective countries. These so-called Embedded Country Teams (ECTs) advise the partner institutions in their ongoing operations and help them better investigate and prosecute serious and organised crime cases. This approach is advantageous because it allows the partner institutions to receive quick, high quality advice that takes EU best practices into account. In addition, short-term practical trainings on specific issues complement this support and empower police officers and prosecutors with specific capabilities and techniques they need in their daily work.
After the first year of implementation the project is well on its way to achieving its objectives.
As of December 2018:
- One country had signed a Eurojust Cooperation Agreement
- Two Joint Investigation Teams were established
- 79 cases of support to investigations took place (five cases of migrant smuggling, 12 of financial investigations)
- 16 supported cases had already led to prosecutions
- 19 per cent of cases involved Europol or Eurojust
- Three target countries composed new draft laws on cooperation
- All six target countries finalised assessment reports on asset recovery
- 369 representatives from prosecution offices, police, Ministries of Justice and Interior, customs and tax administration received trainings
- One country is establishing its first Liaison Prosecutor at Eurojust
- One Fugitive Active Search Team (FAST) Unit was established
- One grant to DCAF supported three common operations on the prevention of migrant smuggling
- One grant to IMPEL supported and continues its support of SPIDER WEB: The Strategic Project to Increase the Detection and Disruption of Environmental Crime in the Western Balkans
- One Vehicle Identification Manual was published
To give these numbers some context, the project’s first Joint Investigation Team was established between Serbia and North Macedonia. This was able to occur due to the cooperation of our Embedded Country Teams in those countries, and ultimately led to indictments against eight defendants, the confiscation of over 240 kilogrammes of amphetamine and the dismantling of two synthetic drug labs. Project results regarding legislation and regulation are also far-reaching as draft laws simplify procedures and remove bureaucratic obstacles for years to come.