Southern Mediterranean countries benefit from common legal area with Europe as they push for reform

Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan are all countries participating in an initiative, implemented jointly by the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU), aiming to establish a common legal area between the two shores of the Mediterranean. This in turn will help them implement European standards, when dealing with problems, such as human trafficking, violence against women or cyber crime and corruption, according to Verena Taylor, the CoE Director for Development Cooperation.

Both organizations are working together to implement the “South Programme II”, aiming to help countries in the Southern Mediterranean to achieve sustainable results in their democratic reforms, Taylor told the Cyprus News Agency, while attending on Tuesday a meeting in Nicosia, hosted by the Cyprus Chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

Karima Saqui, an EU representative responsible for Joint Programmes, told CNA that the budget allocation has increased significantly in the second stage of the programme, running until December 2017. From 4.8 mln euros in the 2012-2014 phase, EU contribution was raised to 7 mln for the 2015-2017 period, while the CoE contributes and additional 10% to the overall budget.

Trafficking is a huge topic for Europe right now, along with migration, says Taylor and underlines efforts to acknowledge trafficked persons as victims, in line with the relevant CoE Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

She adds that CoE contribution lies in shaping European standards, which other countries in the region now follow. “For example, Tunisia has recently drafted a law, modelled on this Convention” Taylor says and explains that the CoE does not necessarily intervene in these countries. “We provide the standards”, along with “certain instruments and tools, which help to implement the standards” and “we carry out a lot of capacity building”, she notes.

A core element in this effort is the creation of a common legal space. As the CoE Director for Development Cooperation explains, “in order to support the democratic reform process in the South, we agreed together that it would make sense to extent the understanding of the common legal space”.

To this end, she notes, we use the European standards in a number of areas, for example in the efficiency of justice. “We work a lot with courts in the Southern Mediterranean, in order to help them to become more effective, more impartial, less corrupt” says Taylor. Other areas of cooperation include combating violence against women and the sexual abuse of children, data protection, cyber crime and corruption.

Countries like Tunisia have used the Convention as a basis for their law and “in a way that`s enough” she goes on, when asked about binding adherence. She adds that countries in the Southern Mediterranean are welcome to adhere to the Convention, but first they need to get their own domestic legal framework right. “At the moment we advise them on how to draft their domestic legislation, in order to be ready to adhere to European standards” she concludes.

From her part, Saqui says that the EU participates in the South Programme, together with the CoE, exactly because it acknowledges the Council`s expertise and tools, such as the Convention. She notes that during the Arab uprising and the emergence of democratic movements in the region, the CoE has been a key partner to work with. The increase in the budget also shows the importance the Union ascribes in this area, the EU representative concludes.


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