Newsletter 10/2011 - From Brussels angle
INTERVIEW with Wouter Van de Rijt, Principal Administrator, General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union
Common spirit of integration allows peaceful miracles to occur
Mr Van de Rijt, what are the key benefits of a regional approach to justice and home affairs in South
We should always remember that there are two processes which should evolve in parallel: the first has to do with the European prospects of the countries of the Western Balkans, and thus with their capacity to adapt their internal legislation and government practices so as to comply with the entire EU acquis. That is obviously a huge task. It requires the adaptation of existing internal rules to EU legislation, standards, norms and best practices, which have evolved over the fifty years since the EU was created.
The second process is that of regional cooperation. It seems logical to require that the countries of the Western Balkans cooperate amongst themselves as closely as the current EU Member States do. Reality on the ground shows that this is not evident to everybody. The Western Balkan countries should show the same spirit as, for instance, the
Does the European Union have any specific requirements from the countries in South
Regional cooperation cannot be imposed from the outside; it should be established by the people of the region. However, there are obviously many examples of good cooperation in the EU which deserve to be promoted in the Western Balkans. Let me take the example of Schengen cooperation, as I have been associated with that process since the time when there were only five EU Member States involved (1985!). The Schengen model has gained so much in performance, in best practices, in standards, such as the mutual evaluation mechanism, that it would be a waste not to use that model and those experiences to set up similar mechanisms in the Western Balkans. I was happy to see that the model is being used by the Police Cooperation Convention for South East Europe (PCC SEE) in its data protection evaluations.
How, and through which mechanisms, will the EU support implementation of the Regional Strategic Document on Justice and Home Affairs 2011-2013?
The EU considers that progress in the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) area is vital for further advances in the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) as testified by the SAP conditionalities, the visa liberalisation roadmaps, various Council conclusions and the recent opinions on
The EU will encourage and support efforts to implement the Regional Strategic Document with all its instruments: Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), TAIEX providing technical assistance and twinning, the European Partnerships, cooperation in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the EU Delegations and EU Special Representative (EUSR) offices, and verification and expert missions on the ground. JHA issues are part of the constant dialogue between the EU, the
The most recent JHA Western Balkans Forum created additional momentum for cooperation, involving EU agencies such as EUROPOL, EUROJUST and FRONTEX and regional structures such as the Regional Cooperation Council and the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) Centre/SELEC. JHA is too important not to be addressed with the full range of instruments at our disposal. Here I would like to add that we are encouraged by extradition agreements signed in the region, reconciliation efforts, the engagement of regional task forces, etc. If it is true that you can lead the horse to water, I am confident that it will drink well. The EU will make sure that – at least – there will be enough water.
How do you see the Regional Cooperation Council as a promoter of regional cooperation in South
The role of the Regional Cooperation Council can best be explained by recalling the crucial importance that integrated projects have had in major breakthroughs in the recent history of the EU. People are not always aware of these things. Schengen's success, to a large extent, can be explained by the fact that in one single Convention, an all-encompassing, overall approach was chosen. That approach included key objectives such as control-free internal borders, as well as harmonised procedures at the external borders, in consulates (visas), between police and judicial authorities etc. Also, the EU Internal Market was realised by adopting one all-encompassing list of objectives (the "300 measures" in the EU White Paper adopted in 1986); and more recently, the Stockholm programme lists one long set of objectives to be realised in the area of justice and home affairs between 2010 and 2014. In my view, the RCC should set the framework for regional cooperation and ensure overall coordination, while leaving the day-to-day business to those who have the mandates for it.
Wouter van de Rijt is a Dutch official who works at the EU Council of Ministers in
 The views expressed in this paper are the author’s and do not bind the Council of the EU.