Albania's and Bosnia's progress in meeting the remaining open benchmarks
Briefing by the European Commission to the LIBE Committee
Brussels, 2 September 2010
Background: On 2 September 2010, the European Parliament Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) met to discuss the Commission proposal to lift the visa requirement for the citizens of Albania and Bosnia if each of the two countries meets three remaining open benchmarks. The Commission, represented by Heike Buss, deputy head of the unit International Affairs of the Directorate-General Home Affairs, briefed the committee members on the progress achieved by two governments in this regard. The following is an unedited, verbatim transcript of the briefing delivered by Mrs Buss.
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Heike Buss, deputy head of the unit International Affairs, DG Home Affairs, European Commission:
"As you know, on 27 May 2010 the Commission proposed to grant visa liberalisation to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. In that proposal, the Commission identified a limited number of outstanding benchmarks for both countries, which have required further monitoring. And we promised in the last briefing to this committee to report orally on the results of these missions, which were carried out in July this year. The mission to BiH took place from 5 to 8 of July, and the one to Albania from 12 to 15 July.
The report that the EC is currently preparing, it is based on the report provided by member state experts that participated to the missions, other EC sources as well as written updates which we received from the countries at the end of June and at the end of August. And on that basis we are currently finalising our assessment report "Evaluating the remaining criteria for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina". This document, which will take the form of a Commission Staff Working Paper is planned to be finalised by mid-September. Therefore I can brief you today only preliminarily on the results of these two experts' missions, which were carried out in full cooperation with the competent national authorities in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Starting with Albania: as regards the development of a strategy and a policy to support the reintegration of Albanian returnees, good progress has been made. The Strategy and Action Plan on reintegration of returned Albanian citizens for the period 2010-2015 were adopted in June 2010 and set out a comprehensive mechanism for the promotion of returnees' reintegration. The Strategy and Action Plan cover the main reintegration needs faced by returnees such as registration, housing, education and employment. Ongoing efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the new Strategy and Action Plan should continue.
As regards strengthening capacities and implementing the laws on fighting organised crime and corruption, Albanian authorities continue to make good progress. In the fight against organised crime, a positive track record of effective law enforcement operations and intensified investigative and prosecutorial activities is in place. The administrative and investigative capacities of law enforcement authorities were strengthened and measures were taken to reinforce operational cooperation between law enforcement agencies involved in the fight against organised crime, as well as between police and prosecutorial services. Further improvements would be desirable to develop a more effective use of interception capabilities and to expand the use of risk-assessments. The investigation and prosecution of corruption cases have been intensified and the number of cases referred to the joint investigative units as well as the number of cases investigated by the latter increased. Further progress should be made on amending legislation to ensure that the widest scope of immunities of judges and politicians does not jeopardise the effective prosecution in corruption cases.
As regards the third benchmark, good progress has also been made, that is in the area of effective implementation of the legal framework in the area of the confiscation of organised crime assets. The human resources of the police units responsible for the investigation of organised crime assets have been increased considerably in order to enable the effective implementation of the law on confiscation of proceeds of crime, the so-called ‘Anti-Mafia Law'. Training of staff investigating assets has started and further training on the identification of legal assets should be provided. The joint investigative units on economic crimes and the financial intelligence unit cooperate with the police and the prosecution services in the implementation of the law. The robustness of the new Anti-Mafia Law is already been tested before the Albanian Constitutional Court, which is expected to issue its decision on the constitutionality of the law in the coming weeks.
Regarding the three benchmarks for Bosnia and Herzegovina: as regards strengthening capacities and implementing the laws against organised crime and corruption, the authorities have continued to make good progress. The implementation of the legal framework and the Action Plan on the fight against organized crime progressed well. Further efforts should continue, particularly regarding the implementation of laws against financial crime. Administrative and investigative capacities of law enforcement bodies were enhanced through targeted training, strengthening staffing and allocation of generally adequate financial means. Operational cooperation stepped up further, as demonstrated by a number of successful operations. In the fight against corruption, a positive trend towards more effective results continued. Some high-level cases are in the prosecution stage and some lower-level verdicts were achieved. The setting up of an anti-corruption agency continued, and the mandate of its acting director was prolonged on 1 September. The setting up of the anti-corruption agency should be pursued.
Regarding the implementation of the action plan on electronic data exchange between police and prosecution bodies, good progress was noted. Preparations for the public procurement procedure for the purchase of the system are well advanced. Law enforcement bodies are getting ready for connection to the future system. Efforts should be stepped up at Federation and Cantonal level to upgrade the necessary capacities. The setting up of the Police Coordination Directorate, amongst the other things, foreseen to host the exchange server of the data exchange system, advances well. Its director and deputy were appointed, funding and a provisional location allocated. The rulebook of the agency was adopted.
Regarding the harmonisation of the Entity-level and Brcko District Criminal Codes with the State- level Criminal Code very good progress has been achieved. The necessary amendments were adopted in Brcko District, Republika Srpska and the Federation in June and July and entered into force at the beginning of August.
The assessment I am giving is only preliminary since the report is still in the process of being finalised, but it is generally positive. The findings of the missions and the information we have been receiving from authorities allow us to say that there has been good progress since May 2010 and that both countries are close to meeting all the benchmarks. We encourage them to keep up their work in addressing open requirements, as on the day of the adoption of the proposal they should fulfil all the benchmarks. The Commission will share its report with the Parliament and the Council by mid-September. Subsequently, it will be for the Parliament and the Council to decide upon the adoption of the proposal."