The rule of law is a fundamental principle of the EU. That means that joining the EU and respect for the rule of law are inseparable. The Western Balkan region faces a number of concerns in this area, from organised crime to issues around judicial independence.
The EU has been providing significant support over many years to assist the region in making reforms to meet these challenges. The EU also values cooperation with Western Balkan partners on shared challenges such as migration management. While change does not happen overnight, continued cooperation is essential to ensure progress.
In the fields of the rule of law, security, and migration, the Western Balkan partners face a number of challenges which the EU is supporting them to overcome. These relate for instance to an independent judiciary, freedom of expression and media, anti-discrimination, protection of fundamental rights, and the fight against corruption.
The Western Balkans continue to face important challenges also in the fight against organised crime which require increased judicial and police cooperation within the region and with EU Member States and EU Justice and Home Affairs agencies to provide an adequate track record on the investigations and prosecution of organised crime cases. Additionally, the Western Balkans have jointly agreed with the European Commission the priorities to tackle common challenges in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, such as the return and reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters or online radicalisation.
As an important transit region, the Western Balkans also face challenges in migration management, such as asylum and reception capacity and protection of migrant rights. Safeguarding of fundamental rights must apply to everyone, in particular the most vulnerable.
Under the ‘fundamentals first’ principle, the rule of law is at the heart of EU – Western Balkan relations. As part of the process for joining the EU, countries need to establish robust institutional mechanisms to uphold the rule of law, as well as law enforcement and judicial bodies that are capable of tackling organised crime and dealing with border management, security threats and irregular migration flows. In cooperation with Western Balkan partners, the EU invests in a number of programmes targeting the most important challenges to empower the region to meet EU standards.
As stressed by the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights, functioning of democratic institutions and public administration are not only at the heart of the EU accession process, but also the main engines for the economic recovery of the Western Balkans region and for enhancing resilience to potential future crises and economic shocks.
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum recognises the importance of the Western Balkans for the EU’s policy on migration and asylum and the need for tailor-made and comprehensive cooperation due to the future prospects of the region in the EU. EU support has already helped increase vital capacities to manage migration movements and build effective systems, and future support will build on these results.
Security in the Western Balkans directly impacts the security of the EU. Links between internal and external security are highlighted in the Security Union Strategy adopted in 2020. For a number of years, the EU and the Western Balkans have been jointly fighting organised crime and terrorism through strategic discussions on priorities and deliverables within enlargement negotiations and concrete support to local law enforcement authorities.
Beyond the funding, the EU plays a key scrutiny role, monitoring progress and reporting on concerns.
Fundamental reforms-Capacity building, guidance and training for legal professionals, combined with investment to upgrade facilities and equipment. Working with partners such as the Council of Europe, the goal is to help to bring law enforcement authorities, policies and practices in line with EU standards, while improving the efficiency of the justice system.
Migration management– Improving the functioning of the asylum and migration systems and the capacity of institutions, as well as providing humanitarian assistance and protection for migrants. The goal is to ensure fair and just treatment for all.
Security cooperation-As so many of the challenges are not confined within national borders, strengthening cooperation between police and justice systems continues to be a core part of support. Cooperation and information-sharing between the EU and the Western Balkans is vital for keeping all our societies safe and secure.
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