Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Balkans must fight harder against organised crime, says EU

The European Union has urged Western Balkan countries to intensify their fight against organised crime, illegal trafficking and corruption.

This was the conclusion of a two-day conference in Brussels held by justice and home affairs ministers from the European Union and representatives of the Western Balkans.

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  • Countries were urged to fight trafficking, organised crime and corruption. (Photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud/norden.org)

Ministers also said they should join forces because organised crime is not only a regional problem but an international one.

The conference was organised by the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union. Representatives from all Western Balkan states took part, including Kosovo and Serbia.

For this reason it was necessary to keep the meeting informal and to name ministers but not participating countries – Serbia would not have agreed to take part in a meeting if Kosovo was formally represented on a equal footing to other states.

The EU considers the Western Balkans a region of prospective members but also as a transition zone for organised crime and an entry point for criminals or criminal groups coming into member states.

During the conference in Brussels, the EU welcomed growing cooperation between the states in the region as well as the cooperation of the authorities in those states with different EU agencies, such as Europol, and with authorities in the EU member states.

Two of the important topics discussed were illegal migration and visa policy. The EU has lifted visa requirements for all Balkans states except Kosovo, but there is growing concern in some member states, such as Belgium, Sweden and Germany, that visa-free travel will be misused by false asylum seekers from the region.

Some EU countries have warned their Balkan colleagues that the union could deny their citizens visas if the number of asylum seekers or instances of the misuse of the visa-free system increase.

According to sources from both the EU and Balkan states, some ministers from the Balkan region have blamed what they consider "too high social standards in the EU" as a reason why people from the region seek asylum in western Europe. They have expressed readiness to take back all false asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, Kosovar interior minister Bajram Rexhepi asked the EU to treat Kosovo equally and to give it an opportunity to start talks about lifting visa rules. There are many voices within the EU suggesting that Kosovo should not remain a black hole in the region when it comes to travel opportunities for its citizens. But many EU member states first want to see how the government will work together with other countries.

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