Why security services reform should be part of accession negotiations with the EU

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On June 4, 2016, the event “Why Security Services Reform Should Be Part of EU Accession Negotiations”, organized by the Belgrade Center for Security Policy BCSP, took a place in Belgrade.

The event discussed the risks of abuse of security services in the region and the role that the European Union should play in terms of reform in this sector.

The most drastic example of abuse by the security services is the 2015 wiretapping scandal, when thousands of citizens were illegally monitored by the Security and Counterintelligence Directorate. During the event, Magdalena Lembovska explained that civil society organizations in North Macedonia have been pointing out problematic aspects of managing security services for years.

“Due to the scanty legislation, it was not clear what the competencies of each of the services were that made it significantly impossible to monitor their work. There was no information on their operation, supervision and control. Although there were some attempts at parliamentary oversight, the services always managed to thwart these attempts, which were already very rare. In the meantime, the budget of UBK was increased without giving proper explanations. ” said Lembovska.

Furthermore, Lembovska spoke about the importance of the Report of the Group of Senior Experts on Systemic Rule of Law Issues (the so-called Priebe Report) and its impact on stakeholders to take steps to ensure accountability in this sector. At the same time, the current situation for the reform of the services was presented, and it was emphasized that the reform should be substantial and comprehensive.

Colleagues from Serbia-Montenegro presented the challenges of good management of the security sector in their countries.

BCSP Executive Director Predrag Petrovic pointed out the bad trend of politicization of the security sector in Serbia through concrete examples. He stressed that during the negotiations with the EU, special attention should be paid to the reform of the security services, because without such a reform there can be no progress in the rule of law.

Dina Bajramspahic of the Alternative Institute pointed to the low transparency of the security sector in Montenegro.

The NATO accession process also meant security sector reform, so the operation of these services is no longer under discussion. However, the most important thing for NATO is the secure exchange of data, while the transparency and accountability that interest the citizens were not covered.

“We are aware that the civil society sector should not be concerned with the details of the operation of these agencies, but we want to make sure that institutions that are set up for such a purpose, such as the parliamentary oversight committee and the ombudsman, do so.” – explained Bajramspahic.

The panelists concluded that effective democratic control over the security services is necessary in order to begin building trust in the sector.

The event was supported by the European Fund for the Balkans within the project “Watching the watchers: towards accountable security services in the Western Balkans” jointly implemented by the Belgrade Center for Security Policy from Serbia, the Center for European Strategies – EUROTHINK from North Macedonia, and the Alternative Institute from Montenegro.