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From regional cooperation to full European integration.

Plenty of time has passed since the first visionary ideas of the former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, about Europe without frontiers, as a symbol of understanding and unity of nations, in the name of common progress, during which we have to come to clearly understand and perceive the contours and importance of one of the paramount geopolitical projects of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. Had it not been for the enormous effort of the European nations translated into a multitude of comprehensive, first and foremost, legal, but also organizational reforms that led to European integration as a uniform, indispensable and irreversible political, welfare, cultural, economic... or, in a word, global social process, the coming into being of that project would not have been possible. Jacques Attali, another one of those great figures of European integration, once wrote: "It's today that we decide what the world will be in 2050 and it's today that we prepare what the world will be in 2100."

It is utterly logical for the European integration to be one of the primary national strategic interests of the Republic of Macedonia, as a European country, because for many years we have invested a lot of effort and have worked with great dedication on the realization of that European agenda in all areas of society, including the area of internal affairs, that is to say, security.

In doing so we have always had in mind the imperative of being fully open to cooperation as a fundamental principle and practice, building bilateral and multilateral partnerships in the best interest of the security and safety of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, the region, and the EU.

The carrying out of that European integration idea begins in the immediate neighbourhood through regional cooperation and connection. Since the adoption of the Madrid Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation decades ago, regional integration has been promoted as one of the initial integration steps, while crossborder cooperation has grown into a substantial segment of national and regional development. In fact, according to EU statistics, over 30 percent of the population of the Union and 40 percent of today's extended European family lives in border regions.

Closely following this minutely standardized approach of the EU to this issue, from the point of view of security and safety, the Macedonian Ministry of Interior has always attached top relevance to the free flow of people and goods in border regions, while demonstrating zero tolerance to all forms of cross-border crime.

This was by all means preceded by a lot of hard work in the segment of border security, taking into consideration the country's own perspective, specifics, and needs. In the past years, the Macedonian police in close cooperation with the EU and other international partners carried out the process of integrated border management, a system without which it is impossible to speak of border security or cross-border cooperation in the context of security.

Integrated border management does not represent only a set of norms. It is rather a reform concept in which multiple organizational, technical, and infrastructure novelties have also been incorporated, accompanied by an appropriate educational level required for its efficient effectuation. Last but not least, integrated border management is impossible without cross-border cooperation, which is an indispensable and integral mechanism without which this system cannot fully operate. This latest trend in border security, as well as in the cross-border flow of people and goods, rests exactly upon uninterrupted communication, exchange of information and coordination between counterpart services. Ultimately, without the aforementioned, the fulfilment of the Schengen criteria would have been impossible.

Committed to its strategic goals, the Republic of Macedonia, that is, its institutions, including the Ministry of Interior, have all along been directly involved as active participants in almost all the relevant European initiatives, projects, and associations. In the context of security, two important events need to be singled out. The first one was the launch of the South-East European Cooperation

Process (SEECP) in 1996 as some sort of political logistics to the Stability Pact, the Pact of Stabilization and Association in the EU, and the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI). It was an autochthonous initiative of the countries of Southeast Europe, whose objectives in promoting regional cooperation also included strengthening the political situation, intensifying economic relations and cooperation in the areas of human resources, democracy, and justice, and, in terms of security, fighting all kinds of illegal activities.

The second important event was the adoption of the Police Cooperation Convention for Southeast Europe in Vienna in 2006, by which the countries of Southeast Europe undertook to devise a set of practical measures for coming closer to the EU standards and police operation practices. This document intensified even more the regional cooperation of the police forces in the region in many areas including cross-border cooperation (particularly with the implementation of Article 34 of the Convention). The countries that signed the Convention, including the Republic of Macedonia, committed themselves to bilateral regulation and closer definition of cross-border operations and cooperation, the immediate result of which was the establishment of the joint contact centres of the border police services, as one of the key operative mechanisms for maintaining cross-border security and traffic, in the context of regional cooperation from the viewpoint of security.

The Sector for Border Affairs of the Macedonian police has already established such contact centres with all neighbours (Deve Bair Joint Contact Centre, Kjafasan Joint Contact Centre, Tabanovce Joint Contact Centre, and Blace Joint Contact Centre) except Greece. They operate in accordance with the negotiated principles and, based on the evaluation of their work that has so far been made, they can doubtlessly be regarded as the key rings in the system of cross-border cooperation, especially in regard to combating together all forms of cross-border crime. Macedonia has, in fact, established and implemented all forms of cross-border police cooperation included in the EU Schengen Catalogue: Recommendations and Best Practices (Part IV: Police Cooperation).

It is also worth mentioning that as far as regional cooperation is concerned, Macedonia has been taking active part, at bilateral and multilateral level, in numerous international programmes, projects, and initiatives. Particularly worth mentioning in this regard is the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), one of the world's leading institutions in security sector reform and management, and the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI), whose paramount goal is helping member countries implement efficiently reforms relating to migration, asylum and refugees, integrated border management, visa policies and consular cooperation, through a regional approach to handling population movements. The primary aim is establishing appropriate national systems and mechanisms in accordance with international and EU standards.

And there is also the Southeast Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA), which has recently amended its statute and has grown into an institution focusing, at a higher level, on intensifying inter-police cooperation concerning a number of issues of common security interest for the purpose of building police capacities in the region in fighting all forms of crime.

We must also note the engagement of the Ministry of Interior within the framework of the Brdo Process in ensuring law enforcement in Southeast Europe, in close cooperation with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development and the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC). The two organizations are supervisors in the carrying out of regional operations for fighting cross-border crime, and identifying and destroying criminal networks.

The Ministry of Interior clearly maintains its international cooperation via all relevant international and regional channels of cooperation (Interpol, Europol, Frontex), while at the same time making use of and taking part in such projects as ILECUs and ILECUs 2 (for establishing international coordination units of the law enforcement authorities).

If we observe what we have said above from the concrete and practical point of view of the functioning of the police services and bearing in mind that in the regional context the challenges of border management are identical, the results are then undoubtedly highly commendable.

The modern trends of illegal migration and organized crime seek modern methods of securing state borders. Amongst them are the special ways of communicating information, connecting the system into integrated border security, possessing appropriate technical capacities, and undertaking adequate on-site activities. All of that has been put in place and is working.

As if to illustrate the point, if we take into consideration the most widespread form of crime at the moment, smuggling migrants, we may conclude that regardless of the fact that the numerous conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East resulted into a potent surge of illegal migrants via what is known as the "Balkan route" of illegal migration, which also runs through the territory of our country, Macedonia has been coping with this, unfortunately, upward trend with great success.

Although we have been identified as a transit country and a country where illegal migrants stay temporarily, it is evident that Macedonia has been combating such types of crime as human trafficking and smuggling migrants increasingly better as a result of border control improvements. In the first nine months of 2014, 1,234 illegal crossings of the state borders were discovered, mostly by people from Albania, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. According to police records, in the first eleven months of 2014, 72 criminal offences of smuggling migrants were discovered, while criminal charges were pressed against 141 people, most of whom were Macedonian citizens, who attempted, either as individuals or as part of a group, to smuggle illegal migrants, mostly from the southern to the northern border of the country.

The achievements in the other segments of border management are also indisputable. Macedonia's fulfillment of the Schengen criteria made it possible for Macedonian citizens to travel to the EU member states visa-free. In parallel with the visa-free regime, for four successive years, according to the annual reports of the US Department of State, Macedonia has been in the group of Tier 1 countries, which fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's (TVPA) minimum standards, and this is no doubt an additional argument confirming the successful implementation of the part of the European agenda relating to border management and cross-border regional cooperation.

In fact, all our efforts have been driven by the interest we all share, both here in the region and in Europe, and which derives from the maxim from the beginning of this article--"Europe Our Home". Cooperativeness, cooperation, and partnership are the only aspirations which, in this context, do not stop. On the contrary, they are being continuously upgraded and advanced in the interest of all our citizens.

Ms. Gordana Jankuloska, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia.
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Title Annotation:Macedonia in Regional Cooperation
Author:Jankuloska, Gordana
Publication:Crossroads Foreign Policy Journal
Geographic Code:4EXMA
Date:Mar 1, 2015
Words:1782
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