Estonian minister: Cooperation with Western Balkans increasingly important
The security of the whole of Europe depends on cooperation with countries of the Western Balkans, which is why cooperation with this region is becoming increasingly important, Estonian Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) said.
Anvelt took part in a ministerial meeting of the EU and countries of the Western Balkans earlier this week where cooperation in combating illegal migration, radicalization, terrorism and organized crime was discussed, ministry spokespeople said.
The minister emphasized that the security of all of Europe depends on cooperation with countries of the Western Balkans, especially when it comes to dealing with organized crime and illegal arms trafficking.
"Firearms brought by arms smugglers to Europe from the Western Balkans have been used by terrorists, among others," Anvelt noted. "The biggest problem is the availability of firearms — on the black market of the Western Balkans, a Kalashnikov assault rifle costs $50, and only three times more in Central Europe. So there is reason for us to be working very closely together."
As the current presidency of the Council of the EU, Estonia has raised the topic of engaging in similar cooperation with Ukraine, where the smoldering military conflict creates favorable soil for the blossoming of organized crime and illegal arms trafficking.
"We have the experience with Western Balkans of what can happen to a country in transition, and we will be fighting together against these consequences for many years to come," Anvelt said. "With Ukraine, we are trying to prevent such a situation from developing."
Cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans in justice and home affairs began with a ministerial meeting in Brussels in 2004. The format was made necessary by the large numbers of illegal firearms flowing into Europe from the Western Balkans region after the conclusion of conflicts there.
EU and Western Balkan ministers, as well as representatives of the European Commission, meet once per year.
The ministers of justice and home affairs of Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria, representing the current trio of presidencies of the Council of the EU, together with the European Commission, represented by the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality and the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, met on Oct. 26-27 with their counterparts from six Western Balkan partners at the annual EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs.
Editor: Aili Vahtla