After an exploratory workshop in Lucinges, France, in late 2001, DCAF launches the Border Security Programme in early 2002. At that time, the emergence of five new states from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia had created new international borders in the region that was characterized by major problems. Borders were frequently not marked, the emergent border control agencies were often inefficient and unable to curb the overwhelming challenges and unequipped to handle the traffic crossing the borders. Inadequate laws in place, enforcement and institutional capacities were accompanied by international weaknesses that limited these countries’ capacity to cooperate the shared cross-border issues. The lack of regional policies (e.g., visa, access rights, readmission and asylum) left loopholes that were exploited by criminal networks. Inadequate information systems were generally not regionally interlinked or, e.g., in Europe, Schengen-compatible, restraining the countries’ capacities to investigate and tackle crime internationally. Regional border police chiefs meet for their very first time.
In 2004, for the first time in history the countries are given the unique opportunity of presenting their shared priorities and future aspirations in the field to senior experts and high officials from the EU Commission and politicians from the European Parliament. Their vision is one of increasing harmonization with EU requirements, based on their understanding that Border security, in all its complexity, is no longer only a national security concern and that all European countries face common threats and thus, they should develop common policies to combat them. Thus started a common endeavour of our Western Balkan Partners, initially planned for two years, and lasting for another eighteen – today we proudly mark the 20th of the journey toward progress.
The achievements of the countries during the last two decades are truly remarkable – increased mutual trust, capacities and knowledge result in operational work at the regional and international levels and in strong EU-WB engagement. The distant past has become increasingly hard to fathom for most of the younger officials, policy-makers and international practitioners who directly or indirectly engage in regional security today. Those results would not have been possible without the priceless support of EU and international actors. Despite different remaining challenges in regional security, the willingness and support of the Western Balkan Partners to continue on their path of reform and contributing to European security cannot be overstated.