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The 12th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Sub-Committee on Justice and Home Affairs between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the European Commission took place on 14-15 November 2017 in Skopje. The meeting was co-chaired by Ms. Svetlana Vlahovic-Dimanovska, Head of Section for negotiation sector for European Union of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Ms Mary Teresa Moran, Deputy Head of Unit in the Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission.
The Sub-Committee took stock of the state of play of judicial reform, fundamental rights, anti-corruption policy, home affairs and border management, asylum and migration in terms of alignment with the EU legislation (acquis) under chapters 23 and 24, as well as implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in these areas. Throughout the discussions, particular attention was given to the Urgent Reform Priorities and recommendations of the Senior Expert Group on Rule of Law as well as measures contained in the Government's "Plan 3-6-9". Progress in implementing measures prescribed in these documents will lay the basis for further discussion with the European Commission.
Sequencing adoption of laws and strategic documents in the area of judicial reform was discussed and the European Commission offered assistance in the form of peer reviews. The EU stressed the need for reforms to be properly planned, based on gap analyses and evaluations, for consultations to be transparent and inclusive and for appropriate financial resources to be allocated at the outset to allow their full implementation. The need to reform the management bodies of the judiciary (Judicial Council and Council of Public Prosecutors) to enable them to fulfil their role of ensuring the independence of the judiciary by protecting judges and prosecutors from undue political influence was highlighted. Ensuring legal accountability for criminal offences surrounding and arising from the content of the wiretaps was also discussed.
The role of the independent and regulatory bodies and the need to ensure their adequate resources and cooperation from all other institutions in the follow-up to their recommendations was discussed. The European Commission acknowledged the improvement in the media environment and encouraged the authorities to continue inclusive consultations on ongoing reforms and to promote an enabling environment for freedom of expression.
The European Commission also presented recent developments in the EU acquis, notably on procedural rights and data protection. Ongoing work on aligning anti-discrimination legislation with the acquis was presented. The need for urgent measures to address the serious situation in prisons and other places was discussed, as were measures taken to develop the probation system.
Progress on building up the track record on high level corruption was discussed, as were measures on seizure and confiscation of assets. The European Commission also underlined the need to reform intelligence services and interception of communications, in line with recommendations. The appointment of the National Coordinator for counter-terrorism/countering violent extremism and his deputies was welcomed and swift finalisation of strategies in this area was encouraged.
Regarding migration and border management, the country's efforts to manage the migration crisis were recognised, further efforts for registration of illegal migrants was called for by the European Commission and the importance of urgently finalising negotiations with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency was acknowledged by both sides.
Both sides agreed on the need to focus the work on producing concrete results in important areas such as strengthening judicial independence, establishing accountability for the wiretaps and reforming intelligence services.