Newsletter 28/2013 - In focus
CITIZENS LIFE GREATELY AFFECTED BY REGIONAL COOPERATION IN FREEDOM, SECURITY AND JUSTICE, by Suzana Ivanovic, Head of Justice and Home Affairs Unit, RCC Secretariat
Justice and home affairs (JHA) is among the most important policies in the European Union (EU). JHA deals with the most sensitive issues concerning freedom, security and justice, and affects everyday life of EU citizens. It is one of the fastest expanding and developing areas with an enormously huge acquis which is still growing.
The Member States began to cooperate in the JHA field in mid 1970s only on an informal, intergovernmental basis, but through the decades, JHA area was incorporated into the institutional framework and the Member States decided to transfer their sovereignty to the Union with the Lisbon Treaty even in the most difficult and sensitive policies such as police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
The most significant progress was made in the last decade with very ambitious Hague and Stockholm programmes which resulted in the adoption of more than one third of the whole JHA legislation. But Europe still faces certain challenges which must be addressed in a comprehensive manner in the near future.
One of them is the enlargement process which put the strengthening of the rule of law and democratic governance in focus. The lessons learnt from previous enlargements highlighted the need of improving the quality of the process. It resulted in separate chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) and setting benchmarks in the Croatian negotiating process and in the new European Commission’s approach to these two chapters which has been used in negotiations with Montenegro for the first time. It means that the most difficult questions regarding justice, freedom, security and fundamental rights will be tackled early in the negotiations to allow maximum time to establish the necessary legislation, institutions and solid track records of implementation before the negotiations are closed. The new approach also introduced national action plans, on the basis of which the negotiations for chapters 23 and 24 will be opened, and also interim benchmarks, which will be set when negotiations are opened.
It means that every further enlargement will be more difficult: growing acquis, different and constantly changing rules and new circumstances. To make things even harder, the EU as well as South East Europe (SEE) are facing the longest and the biggest economic crisis in the last decades, which does not facilitate the enlargement process. The Western Balkans region remains one of the hardest hit in Europe. Therefore, the region decided to take action. Western Balkan countries decided to come up with a coordinated regional response to such a menacing problem. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) is currently undertaking a series of activities that will result in a comprehensive SEE 2020 strategy to be adopted in the autumn of 2013. The strategy is a necessary response to the global economic crisis and an efficient tool helping the states to reach economic development and stability. The strategy will help countries in the region fully implement EU obligations and face future challenges. It will allow maximum time to enlargement countries to establish necessary legislation, institutions and solid track records of implementation before negotiations for the EU accession are closed. It will help countries restructure national economies, thus preparing grounds for growth and competitiveness. In this respect, regional economic cooperation is a cornerstone of recovery.
An important element of the strategy is governance for growth pillar, including reform of public administration, fighting corruption and promoting reform of justice systems. The reasoning is very simple: improving the functioning of public services, transparent procedures and timely and enforceable justice with the stable legal framework will create the basis for economic benefits. Trusting that the rule of law is fully applied will make the countries of Western Balkans attractive locations for business and investment.
But the area of justice and home affairs is much wider. There are certain other issues, such as longstanding phenomenon of migration, which need closer dialogue and cooperation between the EU and non-EU countries to get all the benefits it could bring. Then, there is the Europe without internal borders and dealing with the issue of visa liberalization abuse. There is also a challenge of fighting organized crime where all states in the region should have effective “follow-the money” strategies put in place and thus send the message that crime does not pay. All these challenges and effective tools for fighting these phenomena will be dealt with the separate RCC strategy on justice and home affairs. The RCC firmly believes that the regional approach, which is regionally owned and driven, could bring the success and help countries in the region align with the EU standards and requirements faster and more efficiently.
Suzana Ivanovic has joined the RCC Secretariat in March 2013 as Head of Justice and Home Affairs Unit. Before that, Ivanovic, a Slovenian national, was Head of the Office for European Affairs and International Co-operation at Ministry of Interior (2011-2013); Justice and Home Affairs Counsellor at Permanent Representation of the Republic of Slovenia to the EU (2005-2009), Foreign Ministry; Senior Adviser at the Office for European Affairs and International Co-operation, Interior Ministry (1998-2004) and Journalist at Radio and Television of Slovenia (1991-1998). She graduated at Ljubljana University, Faculty for Social Sciences (journalism / international relations).
 Chapters of the aquis available at European Commission website at following link http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/policy/conditions-membership/chapters-of-the-acquis/