Study Visit from the Western Balkan States

Representatives of judicial training institutions and bar associations from the Western Balkan countries visited ERA from 8 to 12 May to discuss the training needs and expectations of legal professionals in preparation for their future accession to the EU. 

Helping legal practitioners from the Western Balkans to prepare for EU membership is one of the pillars of ERA’s current development strategy.
The visit provided a forum for the 26 high-level participants to exchange experiences, needs and concerns regarding legal training at country-specific level and in working groups focused on the judiciary and the bar respectively. 

Legal training in the Western Balkan countries faces a multitude of challenges. John Coughlan, Communications Director of ERA, who co-hosted the working group for representatives of the bar associations, said: “Many bars suffer from a lack of training capacity while others are in the process of reforming their systems for both initial and continuing training.” 

Also, judges and prosecutors from this region encounter difficulties. Viktor Vadász, ERA’s Programme Director, said “Many external training providers are visible in the Western Balkans, offering participation in a wide range of activities for judges and prosecutors; however, representatives of the national institutions were able to identify the legal topics for which their training needs are still unmet. They cited, among others, practice-oriented seminars on CJEU case law and trainings on digital technology in the field of criminal justice.”

Participants also had the opportunity to witness ERA’s work in action by following parts of a conference on anti-money laundering.

Another aim was to get a closer insight into the workings of the European Union. Representatives of the European Commission discussed with the group the relationship between the candidate and potential candidate Western Balkan countries and the EU. According to Marc Jorna, Senior Expert at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Enlargement: since the invasion of Russia in Ukraine, there is a new dynamic in the EU enlargement process.” For the countries’ application process, he said: “The rule of law remains at the basis in your road to the EU. Judicial training institutions will have a key role to play in this process.” 

Anne Calteux, Head of the Commission Representation in Luxembourg, emphasised the importance of mutual strategic interests because “The current geopolitical context has triggered a new momentum. The Western Balkans contribute to the reflection on the future of our continent.”

Wojciech Postulski, Policy Officer at DG Justice, accompanied the group.  
The following day, the group visited the European Court of Justice where they met with Marko Illešič, the Slovenian Judge on the Court of Justice.

Networking took place not only in the sessions but also during the varied social programme. “This is very beneficial for the cooperation within our region and between the different legal professions”, said Irena Puzić-Obradović, President of the Training Commission of the Bar of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  

One highlight was the concert at the Philharmonie Luxembourg on Europe Day, where the European Academic Orchestra and the Chœur de Chambre de Luxembourg performed Beethoven’s Symphonie N° 9.  

The visit was considered a success by all. Arben Murtezić, Director of the Centre fo Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said: “I’m impressed by the hospitality and the dedication of the management who are so committed to the details of the organisation. This is just the beginning of future cooperation possibilities to come.”