Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans

Project description

Title: Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans
Commissioned by: European Union (EU), German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia
Lead excuting agency: Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)
Overall term: 2020 to 2023

Context

The people of the European Union (EU) and the Western Balkan region have long-standing ties. The EU has supported many reform activities in the Western Balkans over the last two decades. Despite this, reforms in the rule of law, fundamental rights and good governance remain the most pressing issues for the Western Balkans and a great concern for the global community.

As analytical reports by Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) from the past few years show, the countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are still used as an international transit zone for illegal trade. The goods are predominantly transported from the Middle East to Western European markets. 

Serbia’s Assistant Minister of Justice Vladimir Davidovic and Germany’s President of the Federal Office of Justice Heinz-Josef Friehe shake hands during a successful study visit in Germany

In order to strengthen regional security and to reinforce judicial systems, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Italian Ministry of the Interior signed a further delegation agreement with the European Commission in June 2020. Under this agreement, GIZ and the Italian Ministry of the Interior are continuing to implement the project together with the Center for International Legal Cooperation (CILC) in order to counter serious crime in the Western Balkans.

Objective

Cross-border cooperation to fight serious and organised crime in the Western Balkans with institutions and networks of the EU is strengthened.

Approach

The project is unique in its practical approach. Each country’s law enforcement authorities are supported in their daily work by a public prosecutor from an EU member state and a police officer from the Italian Ministry of the Interior as well as lawyers from the respective countries. These six Embedded Country Teams (ECTs) advise the partner institutions on ongoing investigations and help them proceed more efficiently in cases of serious and organised crime. 

This approach is advantageous because it allows the partner institutions to receive quick, high quality advice that takes EU best practices into account. The project also offers a Technical Assistance Facility for joint training exercises and interaction on practical issues. The participants can draw on EU expertise in the area of organised crime, and preventing and combating terrorism. 

Results

The project can draw on the successes and results of the predecessor project and on advisory capacities from a total of 115 criminal investigations that resulted in prosecution in 37 cases. 

Five of these criminal investigations were conducted by cross-border investigation teams, including the first investigation team in the region with representatives from North Macedonia and Serbia. 

Of these investigations, 20 per cent were conducted with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust). The project has also supported the conclusion of four agreements on judicial cooperation. As a result, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are now represented by liaison prosecutors at Eurojust in The Hague. Their presence on site allows faster and more efficient collaboration with all EU member states. Deployment of personnel from Albania is expected in 2020. 

A regional meeting to combat illicit firearms trafficking was organised by the Project in cooperation with the Spanish Guardia Civil and EMPACT Firearms at the Hall of Armed Forces in Sarajevo.

Four of the six Western Balkan countries have prepared new laws and draft laws for more efficient international cooperation in criminal proceedings. The project has advised Serbia on more efficient prosecution of the cocaine trade with South America, enabling the Serbian Ministry of Justice to improve the legal framework for international legal assistance in criminal cases with Brazil and Argentina. 

In order to dismantle communication barriers in international cooperation, English courses have been offered for a total of 583 participants from public prosecutors’ offices, police authorities and ministries of justice and the interior.