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EP adopts Resolution on the fight against organised crime in the Western Balkans

Members of the European Parliament; Photo: European Union

STRASBOURG – European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Cooperation on the fight against organised crime in the Western Balkans yesterday.

The resolution was supported by 531 MEPs, 48 were against, while 117 abstained. The Rapporteur for the resolution, which was adopted by the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) in October, was MEP Lukas Mandl (EPP).

European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič participated in the debate, which was held on Tuesday, reminding that in the latest 2021 enlargement package, the Commission reported in detail how organised crime continues to be a threat in the region.

“The Commission also notes that this is an area where results have been achieved, in particular in the fight against drug production and trafficking, smuggling of migrants, trafficking in human beings, organised property crime, smuggling of excise goods, notably cigarettes and firearms”, Lenarčič said.

He added, however, that a lot more still needs to be done.

“That’s why the Commission fully supports the need to step up cooperation with the region in the fight against organised crime, and this was most recently reaffirmed as one of our core priorities in the engagement with the Western Balkans in the EU Western Balkans Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial earlier this month”, the Commissioner said.

Tonino Picula (S&D) said during the debate that organized crime paired with corruption poses a huge threat in an already troubled region.

“It threatens security, social cohesion, forces young people to leave those countries. It is good that the new IPA III Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, for which I was co-rapporteur of the European Parliament, contains guidelines for strengthening the judiciary and developing more effective tools in the fight against organised crime. I emphasise that we in the European Parliament must constantly send strong messages of support to civil society organizations, investigative journalism, all hard-working and courageous people who work hard and risk making their countries better”, Picula said.

Vladimír Bilčík (EPP) said that cooperation with Eurojust, Europol, Frontex and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office are fine moves, but the EU also must work on the transformation of the domestic institutions of the candidate countries.

“Societies in the Western Balkans must become more resilient from within in order to tackle corruption, organised crime and trafficking more effectively. This is a long—term goal tied to the European perspective, and the frontrunners in this process, namely Montenegro and Serbia, could lead by example”, Bilčík said.

In the document, it is underlined that depriving countries of the Western Balkans of a European perspective is worsening the situation as regards organised crime, and that it can be improved by fostering the EU integration process and cooperation with the Member States.

The Parliament also expressed its view that linking visa liberalisation for Kosovo with the fight against organised crime is counterproductive as isolation encourages criminal activities. It underlined again that Kosovo has fulfilled all criteria for visa liberalisation.

European Parliament “regretted the lack of genuine political will among parts of the local political elites to fight organised crime and corruption and eliminate any elements of state capture”.

It stressed that fighting organised crime and advancing EU integration are mutually reinforcing processes, hence the need to accelerate the EU integration process.

“(European Parliament) reiterates the need to eradicate political and administrative links to organised crime through clear anti-corruption safeguards and the effective prosecution of high-profile corruption cases;…is highly alerted by reports and accusations of links between high-level political figures and organised crime groups, while the judicial system is ineffective at addressing these claims; underlines that the construction sector in the Western Balkans is among the most vulnerable to organised crime and corruption”, the Resolution reads.

It underlined the crucial role of CSOs, academics and journalists in monitoring the work of governments and judicial and law enforcement agencies and assessing track records in fighting organised crime.

“(European Parliament) notes that legal and institutional frameworks for CSO participation are largely in place in the Western Balkan countries but regrets that their potential is not being used to the full extent and that CSOs focusing on corruption and organised crime are in some cases facing hostility from their governments”, the Resolution reads.

It urged CSOs to be more included in the legislative process and for them to be able to make a meaningful contribution to key pieces of legislation and called on Western Balkan authorities, in this context, to urgently develop, adopt and implement better laws on free access to information through inclusive processes.

The Resolution also commended the work of investigative journalists reporting on high-profile cases and disclosing links between organised criminal groups, politicians and businesses. It strongly condemned acts of aggression, including targeted killings, intimidation, hate speech and slander campaigns against investigative journalists and civil society.

“(European Parliament) notes with particular concern cases of hate speech and slander campaigns by state officials, MPs and the representatives of governments, ruling parties and media owned or partially financed by the state”, the document reads, reiterating its call on the Commission and the European External Action Service to strengthen their cooperation with and support for civil society, NGOs, reform-oriented policymakers, academia and independent media on the ground.

European Parliament also deeply regretted the increasing number of cases of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs), which, it added, are often used to threaten journalists and individuals in order to prevent them from exposing the wrongdoings of those in power.

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