On 5 May 2006 in Vienna, during the Austrian presidency of the EU, the Ministers of Interior from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia, signed the Police Cooperation Convention for Southeast Europe. After ratification by all seven signatory states, the Convention entered into force on 10 October 2007. In addition, Bulgaria acceded to the Convention on 25 September 2008, Austria on 24 May 2011, Hungary on 6 July 2012 and Slovenia on 14 December 2012.
The Convention envisages modern forms of cooperation among the Contracting Parties, such as joint threat analysis, liaison officers, hot pursuit, witness protection, cross-border surveillance, controlled delivery, undercover investigations to investigate crimes and to prevent criminal offences, transmission and comparison of DNA profiles and other identification material, technical measures for facilitating transbroder cooperation, border search operations, mixed analysis working groups, joint investigation teams, mixed patrols along the state border and cooperation in common centres. The full implementation of the Convention will thus help those signatory countries not members of the EU to accelerate their eventual accession.
The main activities for the full implementation of the Convention are based on three pillars:
1. Decision-making process – Article 33 of the Convention stipulates that the Committee of Ministers decides on the implementation, interpretation and application of the Convention. Therefore, it is essential to establish an effective, thorough and clear decision making process of the Committee of Ministers, modeled on the practice of the European Union.
The decision making bodies are:
• The Expert Working Group, whose role is to observe the application and implementation of the Convention and to make recommendations to the Committee of Ministers. Fourteen meetings have been held to date.
• The Committee of Ministers, whose role is to decide unanimously on the interpretation, implementation and application of the Convention. Thirteen meetings have been convened to date.
2. Implementation programme - With the support of international partners, Contracting parties are preparing the establishment of operational capabilities for full implementation of the Convention.
3. Operational cooperation - The Convention itself provides a toolbox for operational cooperation, which should in real life start as soon as possible.
International police cooperation requires an appropriate legal framework in order to be fully effective. The aim of the Convention is to adopt Schengen standards through the conclusion of a multilateral convention for the improvement of strategic police collaboration in the region.
The Contracting Parties are strongly supported by Switzerland, the European Commission, DCAF and Liechtenstein, who secure the funding for meetings of various working groups and other implementation activities, provide recommendations and legal advice (including the drafting of protocols), and assist the Secretariat of the Convention with funds and personnel. These efforts enhance the Contracting Parties’ operational capabilities and help them meet the challenges of adequate cross-border cooperation.
The rotating trio chairmanship of the Convention fosters the principle of local ownership and encourages the Contracting Parties to take an active role in the implementation process. Strategic and practical priorities for the full implementation of the Convention are defined by the Contracting Parties of the trio chairmanship for the period of 18 months, and beyond, and follow recent developments, current needs and capabilities of the region.
A top-down / bottom-up approach has been introduced in the implementation of the Convention provisions, namely with the establishment of various thematic and ad hoc working groups and networks, comprised of national experts from the Contracting Parties. To date, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Data Protection; and the Thematic Working Groups on Police Education and Training, on the Exchange of Information Regarding Fake and Forged Travel Documents, on the Surveillance Expert Network for Southeast Europe, on JIT Expert Network for Southeast Europe and on Harmonisation and Improvement of Telecommunications among the Contracting Parties, as well as the Network on Countering Terrorism have been established and meet periodically to facilitate the implementation of specific provisions.
The practical implementation follows the Police Cooperation Convention Manual, allowing for police practitioners to use it as a main tool when performing duties covered by the Convention, whereas the operational cooperation is most visible in the cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit exercises performed between the Contracting Parties, under Articles 13, 14 and 15 of the Convention.
In addition to key implementation priorities set by the Ministers in July 2008, the framework for an effective implementation process has been strengthened by a number of documents endorsed and/or adopted by the Committee of Ministers, thus comprising the PCC SEE Acquis (please see section "Document for further reading).