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. Three meeting have been held to date, the first taking place on 6 March 2009 in Belgrade, Serbia; the second on 29-30 June 2009 in Ljubljana, Slovenia; the third on 19 May 2010 in Sofia, Bulgaria; the fourth on 16 September 2010 in Skopje, Macedonia and the fifth on 23-24 February 2011 in Celje, Slovenia.
• The Committee of Ministers, whose role is to decide unanimously on the interpretation, implementation and application of the Convention. The first meeting of the Committee took place on 17 July 2008 in Vienna, Austria; the second meeting was convened on 17 November 2009 in Brussels, Belgium; the third on 21 May 2010 in Sofia, Bulgaria; the fourth on 19 October 2010 in Brdo pri Kranju and the fifth on 28 February 2011 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
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.
The Committee of Ministers of the Contracting Parties have adopted several important decisions throughout their gatherings.
At their first meeting, on 17 July 2008 in Vienna, the Ministers decided to establish an Expert Working Group of their respective representatives to be the main coordinating body of the implementation process. The Ministers decided to set up a Secretariat of the Convention, assigning its headquarters to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Given the vast scope of the Convention, a limited number of key recommendations for initiating the implementation process was adopted, including the amendment of the Contracting Parties’ national legislation, concluding bilateral and multilateral implementation agreements, developing a Police Cooperation Convention Manual, establishing National Central Units and Common Centres, conducting harmonised training on Convention related matters, and finally, correcting two articles of the Convention.
The second meeting of the Committee of Ministers, held on 17 November 2009 in Brussels, further strengthened the framework for an effective implementation process by adopting the Action Plan Concerning the Key Recommendations for the Implementation of the Convention, the Committee of Ministers Rules of Procedure, the Work Programme for the Secretariat for 2010 and the Communication Strategy for the Contracting Parties. The Ministers also decided to launch a process of mutual evaluations amongst the Contracting Parties in the area of data protection by adopting the Rules of Procedure in the Area of Data Protection. In addition, a decision was adopted on the rotation of the Convention chairmanship, rotating every 6 months following the alphabetical order of the names of the Contracting Parties.
The third meeting of the Committee of Ministers was convened under the auspices of the Bulgarian Chairmanship-in-Office on 21 May 2010 in Sofia. Two working sessions took place at which the Ministers reviewed the achievements with regard to the implementation process and held discussions on their visions of possible future steps towards a fully operational Convention as well as discussions on the Convention as a modern instrument for exchange of information and efficient police cooperation in the region. A Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Cooperation and Support for the Secretariat was signed by the Ministers of the Contracting Parties and the Director of DCAF, reiterating the full commitment of the Contracting Parties to an effective implementation process, including the allocation of necessary financial and human resources. In addition, the Strategy Paper regarding the Conduct of Harmonised Training on Convention Related Matters and the Decision on Changing the Term "Standardised Training" to "Harmonised Training" were adopted; the latter in order to avoid misunderstandings related to standardisation of the training and education institutions. The meeting also gave possibilities for bilateral meetings between the Ministers, enhancing bilateral and regional operational cooperation.
The fourth meeting of the Committee of Ministers, organised under the auspices of the Macedonian Chairmanship-in-Office, was held on 19 October 2010 in Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenia. The Committee of Ministers highly valued the Roadmap for the Implementation of the Convention as an important and useful strategic document and agreed on the content of the Roadmap, however, some of the Contracting Parties expressed that the proposed period 2011-2015 might be too ambitious for certain activities foreseen in the document. Therefore the Expert Working Group and Secretariat were authorised to harmonise the dynamics of implementing the Convention and redefine the Roadmap accordingly. The Committee of Ministers welcomed the decision of the Expert Working Group to establish a Thematic Working Group on Exchange of Information regarding Forged and Fake documents within the Convention, and also endorsed the Work Programme for the Secretariat for 2011. The importance of data protection was reiterated and the Ministers urged all Contracting Parties to speed up the process of mutual evaluations in accordance with the Rules of Procedure in the Area of Data Protection (CoM 03/09). The Ministers welcomed the intention of Austria and Slovenia to join the Convention as well as the measures undertaken in this respect.
The fifth meeting of the Committee of Ministers, convened under the auspices of the Moldovan Chairmanship-in-Office, took place on 28 February 2011 in Ljubljana. The Ministers adopted the Decision on the Classification Level of the Police Cooperation Convention Manual (CoM 02/11), a document found to be a useful tool for police practitioners and for training and education purposes. Thus, they agreed that the PCC Manual shall not be restricted and shall be taken into account by the Contracting Parties when drafting their national guidelines and regulations regarding specific articles of the Convention, that it shall be sent to the national authorities of the Contracting Parties which should be instructed to use the manual as the main tool when performing duties covered by the Convention and shall be used for training purposes. Furthermore, the Ministers discussed the introduction of a post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism for the Western Balkan countries. The Secretariat was invited by the European Commission to take part in this process, together with EUROPOL and FRONTEX. As a conclusion, the Ministers agreed that the Convention shall be used as a regional tool for supporting this monitoring mechanism as well as on the a proposal for concrete activities within the scope of the Convention, such as the establishment of a specialised working group to serve as a platform for strategic information exchange and coordination. The Republic of Moldova, as chairing country, informed the Ministers that they will send a letter to the Slovenian Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs to propose the Institute DCAF Ljubljana be granted the status of international organisation. This would enable the process of seconding representatives from the Contracting Parties and would have financial impacts as well.
The sixth meeting of the Committee of Ministers, convened under the auspices of the Montenegrin Chairmanship-in-Office, was held on 17 November 2011 in Pravets, Bulgaria. The Ministers adopted the Decision on the Fulfilment of Preconditions arising from the Convention in the Area of Data Protection for the Republic of Albania, thereof enabling the Republic of Albania to exchange information, including personal data, under the Convention provisions. They also adopted the Decision on the Amendment of the Rules of Procedure for Evaluations in the Area of Data Protection under the Convention, providing the inclusion of assessments that are part of Europol's Data Protection mechanism in the process of concluding operation agreements with third parties. The Ministers endorsed the Work Programme of the Secretariat for 2012, took note of the training curricula elaborated by the Thematic Working Group on Police Education and Training and reiterated the importance of the Expert Working Group members' access to their respective Ministers in order to contribute to the work of the Convention bodies. The Ministers' discussion focused on the national state of play regarding Common Centres and they reconfirmed their commitment to upscale their efforts in their establishment.
The Committee of Ministers met for the seventh time on 17 May 2012 in Brdo pri Kranju under the auspices of the Romanian Chairmanship-in-Office. The Ministers adopted the Decision on the Amendment of the Committee of Ministers Rules of Procedure, introducing the possibility for establishing networks, as a tool for enhancing operational cooperation among the Contracting Parties, and participation on a voluntary basis, allowing the Contracting Parties to express their own will and put a reserve on the establishment of a specific working body. CEPOL held a presentation on its cooperation with the SEE countries and expressed its willingness to enhance cooperation in the area of training activities, which was highly welcomed by the Ministers. The Romanian Chairmanship presented the outcomes of the two questionnaires prepared in line with their chairmanship priorities, covering the screening of the Convention implementation and the aspects of the way they interact with other similar regional mechanisms. The Ministers encouraged the Contracting Parties to continue with the monitoring of the implementation process and analysis of overlapping in order to set up precise guidelines for the implementation of the Convention provisions in a more effective and efficient manner.
The eighth meeting of the Committee of Ministers was organised under the auspices of the Serbian Chairmanship in Office on 12 October 2012 in Mátraháza, Hungary. The Ministers supported the amendment of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation and Support regarding the PCC SEE Secretariat, namely regarding the terms of its validity. The Annex on the Amendment of the Memorandum, signed by the Republic of Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of Moldova, the Republic of Serbia and DCAF, prolongs the initial period of two years to and indefinite period. The Ministers exchanged their national state of play and achievements in the implementation process, assessing the Convention as an important tool for cross-border police cooperation in the fight against modern security challenges. They presented their further expectations as regards the implementation of the Convention and placed strong emphasis on the aspect of practical implementation and operational cooperation. They also endorsed the Work Programme of the Secretariat for 2013.
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.
Since the beginning of the implementation process the Contracting Parties have been supported by Austria, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and DCAF , e.g. through organizing and funding meetings of working groups, conducting a needs-assessment and providing recommendations, offering legal advice (including the drafting of protocols), and assisting the Secretariat. All of these efforts should enable the Contracting Parties to increase their operational capabilities for effective cross-border cooperation.
The rotating chairmanship of the Convention fosters the principle of local ownership and encourages the Contracting Parties to take an active role in the implementation process. Priorities for the full implementation of the Convention are set by the chairing Contracting Party for the period of its six-month mandate, and beyond, and follow the 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 Forged and Fake 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, 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.
A full set of documents, either adopted or endorsed by the Committee of Ministers, facilitate the implementation process and regulate the tasks and roles of the key decision making bodies, namely being the:
- Action Plan Concerning the Key Recommendations for the Implementation of the Convention, developed on the basis of the Conclusions of the first meeting of the Committee of Ministers;
- The Roadmap for the Implementation of the Convention, placing a common framework for all Contracting Parties in achieving the necessary standards and building direct contacts between the units which participate in the different forms of cooperation provided for in the Convention;
- Committee of Ministers Rules of Procedure, representing the basis of the decision making process;
- Rules of Procedure in the Area of Data Protection, setting the conditions for an efficient exchange of information including personal data;
- Work Programme of the Secretariat for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013;
- Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation and Support Regarding the Secretariat, including the role and tasks of the Secretariat, the cooperation between the Contracting Parties and the Secretariat, the support of the Contracting Parties to the functioning of the Secretariat as well as the organizational and operational modalities of the Secretariat;
- Communication Strategy for the Contracting Parties, setting out the values, main objectives, target groups and key messages and outlining the communication channels and communication tools to be used with the aim of increasing the recognition level of the Convention.