16th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement Subcommittee between the European Commission and North Macedonia on Justice, Freedom and Security
The 16th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Subcommittee on Justice Freedom and Security between North Macedonia and the European Commission, due to have been held in Skopje, took place virtually on 17-18 November 2021. The meeting was co-chaired by Ms. Svetlana Vlahovic Dimanovska, Head of Sector for negotiations and EU integration within the Department for EU and International Cooperation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of North Macedonia and Mr Alberto Cammarata, Deputy Head of Unit for North Macedonia and Albania in the Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission.
The subcommittee took stock of the developments related to judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime, fundamental rights and the state of play of reforms in the field of police reform, fight on organized crime, firearms and drugs trafficking, trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling, financial investigations and financial crimes, confiscation of assets, prevention/counter violent extremism and counter terrorism, border management, migration and asylum. In line with the 2021 Report on North Macedonia, the European Commission assessed the progress made in aligning with the EU acquis in the areas covered by chapters 23 and 24, as well as implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in these areas.
The national authorities underlined that judicial reforms remain a key priority for North Macedonia. They informed about the state of play of the implementation of reforms in this area and follow up activities. The European Commission acknowledged the progress achieved and underlined the need to continue implementing the Law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the judicial strategy, and the human resources strategies for the judiciary and prosecution. It also recalled the importance of continuous application, by the judicial institutions, of the rules for the appointment, promotion, discipline and dismissal of judges and prosecutors. The European Commission underlined as well that any new law on the Academy for Judges and Prosecutors should maintain the Academy as the sole entry point to the judiciary and prosecution and should secure a fair and transparent access to these professions.
With regard to the fight against corruption, the European Commission welcomed the adoption of the 2021-2025 National Strategy for the Prevention of Corruption and Conflict of Interest and related Action Plan. It was agreed that the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) and the Prosecutor for Organised Crime and Corruption (OCCPO) should receive appropriate financial and human resources. The European Commission underlined the importance to continue to consolidate the track record on preventing and combating corruption, including at high level. In addition, the authorities proposed to jointly work with the Commission in order to promote the manner of data collecting.
Concerning fundamental rights, the European Commission welcomed the adoption of the Law on the Prevention and Protection against Discrimination and the setting-up of the Commission for the Prevention and Protection against Discrimination. Furthermore, the adoption of the Law on Prevention and Protection from Violence against Women and Domestic Violence was welcomed and the need to ensure its implementation was stressed. The authorities should enforce the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and prepare a National Action Plan for Children. The European Commission outlined the need to step-up the efforts to remedy the healthcare situation in prisons and address the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The authorities were encouraged to allocate sufficient resources to the Office of the Ombudsman to fulfil its new competences, and to finalise the appointment of members to vacant posts in independent regulatory bodies, especially the Council in the media regulator and the public service broadcaster. Media freedom, the safety of journalists and the reform of the public service broadcaster were also discussed.
Concerning home affairs, the subcommittee noted the progress achieved in developing the strategic and legal framework in the field of anti-money laundering, financial investigation and confiscation of asset, as well as combating trafficking in human beings, which need to be implemented. It noted the need for further progress on police reforms in line with the outstanding GRECO recommendations. The European Commission encouraged further efforts on conducting financial investigations, in parallel with criminal investigations, resulting in a track record of seizure and confiscation of criminal assets. Priorities to tackle in the sectors such as firearms trafficking, drugs trafficking, migrant smuggling and cybercrime were also discussed. Continued good cooperation with EU agencies contributes to fighting organised crime.
The subcommittee welcomed the progress made on the Implementing Arrangement of the “Joint Action Plan against terrorism for the Western Balkans”. Regarding migration and border management, the subcommittee agreed on the need to manage mixed migration flows taking into consideration security and humanitarian aspects. Further efforts are needed on building capacity to implement asylum procedures that are in line with the Common European Asylum System. The subcommittee underlined also the importance of signing the status agreement with the EU that would allow the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to deploy teams of the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps in the country.