FIELDS OF INVESTIGATION
The fields of investigation of the Observatory cover the following areas:
I. Cross-Border Security (Migration and Asylum Management)
This field of investigation aims to foster knowledge and critical assessments of the EU’s strategy towards the Western Balkans from both the enlargement and security perspectives by examining policy choices, rules applied, political and legal instruments adopted at the international, European and national levels to strengthen reform efforts and bring tangible progress.
EU membership is closely linked to security, insofar as it requires these countries to provide guarantees according to EU-oriented reforms. It also consists of analysing the impact on the legal systems of each Western Balkan country according to an interdisciplinary approach that includes criminal law and criminal procedural law, constitutional law, European and international law.
In detail, it will promote knowledge of migration and border management issues within the framework of the EU acquis communautaire, in particular in Chapter 24 (Cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs), providing practical tools and coordinated action between EU Member States, agencies, institutions and the Western Balkan Countries to implement a common and comprehensive approach to border management and the fight against illegal migration. Migration control is a key element of EU enlargement efforts in the Western Balkans, which remain an important transit area for irregular migrants moving to Western Europe.
It will also include joint training seminars involving academics, international and national experts and representatives of different categories of stakeholders to provide an overview of the EU’s strategy towards the Western Balkans and specific measures on migration issues in the EU’s External Action.
II. Transnational Crimes
This field of investigation aims at fostering knowledge and critical assessments concerning the Western Balkans as the origin of cross-border offences into the rest of Europe. Organised crime activities are mainly linked to illicit trafficking in arms, drugs, and human beings.
The increasing involvement of strong organized crime groups in the Balkan region reflects an EU concern due to the importance of the region as a geopolitical and geo-economic hub between the EU, Turkey, the Middle East, and Russia. Further, as borders dissolve in Europe, the opportunity for various forms of exploitation increases, presenting new challenges. Similarly, the challenges of terrorism have been recognised as a priority issue in EU-Western Balkan relations. The topic gained prominence through the EU Global Strategy, and resulted in some determined steps at the policy level in the respective EU-Western Balkan forums. In this direction, the Joint Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism of 2018 requires each Western Balkan country to align its legal counter-terrorism framework with the relevant legal instruments of the EU and international bodies. In fact, the EU’s enlargement strategy of February 2018 reinstated security and the rule of law as a conditio sine qua non in terms of a reinforced EU perspective for the region. Furthermore, the Council adopted conclusions setting the 2022-2025 EU priorities for the fight against serious and organised crime through the European multi-disciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT). Within the EMPACT framework, EU member states, agencies and other actors will work closely together to address these key criminal threats.
Therefore, this field of investigation will concern the political choices, the applied rules, the political and legal instruments adopted at the international, European, and national level to reinforce reform efforts and bring tangible progress in this sector. They will also consist of the analysis of the impact on the legal systems of each Western Balkan country according to an interdisciplinary approach that includes criminal law and criminal procedural law, constitutional law, European and international law. Furthermore, they will focus on what obstacles might exist in the national legislation and practice of Western Balkan Countries that might hinder or complicate the efficiency of international cooperation according to European standards. Thus, it will also include joint training seminars with the involvement of academics, international and national experts, and representatives of the different categories of stakeholders to provide a problem-focused approach also in light of the evolution of EU Criminal Law within the EU and with the rest of the world.
III. Police and Judicial Cooperation
This field of investigation aims to foster knowledge and critical assessments concerning the judicial and police cooperation with the Western Balkan Countries to investigate and prosecute crimes in the region looking at the international, European, and national legislative framework.
EU police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters takes three forms: cooperation between national police forces; cooperation between national administrations (in particular customs services); cooperation between national judicial authorities.
Cooperation is implemented with the help of EU agencies such as the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust), the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) and the European Judicial Network.
In June 2022, the Council of the European Union adopted a recommendation on operational police cooperation. This sets out a series of standards for operational cooperation between police officers operating in another EU Member State or participating in joint operations. In this context, this field of investigation aims to promote knowledge concerning all the mechanisms for the informal exchange of criminal intelligence and information, and the way in which police and prosecutors from different countries can work together, with specific reference to the development of joint investigation teams (JITs). Furthermore, it aims at fostering knowledge in the field of the EU Digital Criminal Justice, thus including joint training seminars with the involvement of academics, international and national experts, and representatives of the different categories of stakeholders to provide a technical approach to the digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation.
IV. Promotion and Protection of EU Values and Fundamental Rights
This field of investigation aims to promote knowledge and critical evaluations concerning the protection of the EU’s fundamental values and rights, which is a horizontal issue, affecting all fields of EU activity (and a fortiori the above-mentioned fields of investigation).
The building of a democratic system plays a central role in fulfilling the conditions for EU membership, which refers to respect for the rule of law, the stability of democratic institutions and the protection of fundamental rights and minorities. However, the protection of the values and fundamental rights professed by the Union have also become crucial for the so-called permanence of membership. Therefore, the activity aims at increased monitoring and examination of the impact of rule of law reforms, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, independence of the media, the role of parliaments, building democratic and independent institutions, politicisation and professionalisation of the public sector in the future Member States. It will also compare the current situation of the rule of law within the EU Member States with the impact on the legal systems of each of the Western Balkan countries, as well as in the EU’s relations with third countries and international institutions according to an interdisciplinary approach. Therefore, it will also include joint training seminars with the involvement of academics, international and national experts and representatives of different categories of stakeholders to provide a problem-solving approach, thus strengthening support to actors promoting the protection of fundamental rights and values at the national level.