EU-Western Balkans ministerial calls for closer cooperation to better manage migration

epa09438424 Slovenian Interior Minister Ales Hojs EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL

Home affairs officials from the EU and the Western Balkans meeting at Brdo estate on Thursday agreed on the need to improve the exchange of information and cooperation on the ground in the combat against organised crime, and terrorism and in-migration management Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs said after the meeting.

The minister said the discussion at the EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum had also ascertained that the cooperation between EU agencies such as Frontex, Europol and the European Asylum Support Office, and Western Balkan countries “is a two-way road”.

It is not just that the agencies offer their assistance but also that the countries take advantage of the tools at their disposal and support those agencies by sharing their information, Hojs said.

But Hojs said this also required suitable financing. A large or at least a certain part of the EUR 30 billion-plus that the EU plans to invest in the region over the next few years should thus be allocated for home affairs.

“Given such a large amount of money, it would really be a shame if we couldn’t find the financial means to finance the field that we cover,” said Hojs.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, who addressed reporters along with Hojs, also noted the importance of cooperation in managing migration and fighting organised crime.

She also emphasized the importance of cooperation in light of the worrying developments in Afghanistan, the hybrid threat from Belarus against EU borders and the humanitarian crisis migration in the Channel.

“None of these situations can be managed by any one country alone, but it cannot be managed by the EU alone either. We have to work together; we have to work along the routes, together with the countries of origin and transit.”

Johansson also noted the need for information exchange and police cooperation between the EU and partners in the Western Balkans.

“The European Commission stands ready, of course, with funding and expertise to work even closer together because we can only manage these challenges together. The Western Balkan countries belong to Europe, but they also have their future in the European Union. That’s why it’s also important that we invest in our close cooperation,” she said.

Foreign reporters inquired about the allegations of pushbacks against the Slovenian police. Minister Hojs expressed surprise at the questions saying he had not heard of such allegations yet.

“The Slovenian police are doing everything by the book without any pushbacks. Obviously, bilateral return to Croatia of those who doesn’t ask for asylum is completely lawful,” he said. “I hereby deny in the strongest terms any insinuation about pushbacks on the Slovenian-Croatian border.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Johansson expressed concern about pushbacks on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina but said she worked well with the Croatian government to tackle the issue. An independent border-monitoring mechanism currently underway appears to be working, she said.

Apart from Johansson and Hojs, the ministerial forum was also attended by the relevant ministers or state secretaries from the Western Balkans and France and Czechia, which make part of the next presidency trio. Representatives of the relevant EU agencies also took part.

On Friday, justice ministers will meet at Brdo. The EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs is held once a year to strengthen regional cooperation and neighbourly relations and support the Western Balkan countries’ progress towards the EU.

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