Regional closing conference on Horizontal Facility Programme demonstrates benefits for Western Balkans societies

Dedication of the authorities to reform of the judiciary, fighting economic crime and combating discrimination, with support of the Council of Europe and the European Union through the European Union and Council of Europe Horizontal Facility joint programme, has brought enormous benefits to societies of the Western Balkans. This was a key conclusion of the Regional Closing Conference of the Programme, held in Tirana today.

Sokol Dedja, Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs expressed commitment of Albania to implement recommendations of the Council of Europe monitoring and experts’ bodies with the aim to further strengthen the reforms in the areas of judiciary, fighting economic crime and anti-discrimination. “Areas supported by the expertise and actions of Horizontal Facility that will be discussed today are of fundamental importance for our progress in the European integration process”, he concluded.

I am proud that the EU has had the opportunity to work with IPA beneficiaries on these important areas which mean so much for the everyday life of citizens“, said Liselotte Isaksson, Head of Sector in the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, European Commission. “The Horizontal Facility is really about people – justice means that citizens can feel safe that their legal system will protect them efficiently against injustice and abuse. Absence of corruption and economic crime means that more resources will be available to citizens for essential services. Antidiscrimination is about equal opportunities for all citizens. The Horizontal facility works in support of the implementation of the Western Balkan Strategy, which features rule of law as a central theme.

Verena Taylor, Director of the Office of the Directorate General of Programmes of the Council of Europe said that the regional dimension of this programme is very important because there are many links among beneficiaries in the region and we have to work together to overcome existing challenges. “The second phase of the programme will integrate other areas, such as media freedom and freedom of expression, but it will continue to address the same priority areas as in the first phase. Also, we will keep the flexibility that we have, but also aim for stronger co-operation with Turkey”, she said.

Through the Horizontal Facility, the European Union and the Council of Europe assisted beneficiaries in South-East Europe to comply with Council of Europe standards and European Union acquis in the framework of the enlargement process. The implementation of the Horizontal Facility directly contributes to the EU flagship initiatives to support the transformation of the Western Balkans. The envelope of this programme amounts to 25 million EUR.

Over the past 3 years, this joint programme has delivered results which are important for the citizens of the Western Balkans, such as improved prison systems and better rights of inmates, more tolerant school environments and more effective anti-corruption laws and measures. The  Horizontal Facility contributed  to make   justice systems more efficient for citizens and to increase harmonization of judgments based on European standards. In terms of anti-discrimination, the programme aims for people that are from vulnerable groups not to be excluded on basis of identity, but will have same opportunities.

The “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey” covers actions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia as well as Kosovo*, whereas Turkey has had the possibility to benefit through regional actions. They have all also benefited from the Expertise Co-ordination Mechanism, that provides legislative expertise and policy advice  within the Council of Europe system. On 23 May 2019 the current phase of the Horizontal Facility will be coming to an end. After three years of implementation, and in light of the commitment of both organisations to launch a second phase of the programme, the closing conference has provided an important occasion to reflect on results and discuss common challenges to be tackled in the future. Participants recognised the added value of regional exchange which allows them to benefit from each other’s experience.

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