Cooperation with the Western Balkans and active participation in the implementation of several IPA Programs has been a long-standing priority for EU Member States and the European Commission. Significant steps were taken in 2008, during the first Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU that set in motion the “Bled initiative”. The adoption of the Council Conclusions on cooperation with the candidate countries and potential candidate countries of the Western Balkans in the field of civil protection emphasized the need for working closer with Balkans region and led to launch of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) for civil protection policy area.
Since then, Western Balkan countries have been taking part in various activities and tools available under the IPA programs and the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) such as prevention and preparedness projects, trainings, exercises, peer reviews, exchange of experts, and advisory missions, which have been constantly contributing to resilience building, benefitting both the region itself and the EU. Moreover, the UCPM Participating States from the Western Balkans take part in the Civil Protection Committee meetings and various working groups and have therefore the possibility to contribute to the civil protection policy at the EU level.
During the second Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU in second half of 2021, strengthening of civil protection cooperation with the Western Balkan region has been highlighted again and discussed at several occasions: within the Council Working Party for Civil Protection meeting as well as the Civil Protection Director’s General meeting. Strong commitment to the Western Balkans has been underlined, and the continuation of the IPA Programmes has been encouraged.
The Western Balkans countries work closely with the UCPM also when it comes to emergency response. The most recent example of a successful EU – WB disaster response cooperation dates only months back, when in the summer of 2021 the European Commission together with 8 Member States swiftly mobilised support to assist Albania and North Macedonia in limiting the spread of forest fires affecting the region. Since 2014, the UCPM received over 30 requests for assistance from the Western Balkans.
The Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (ACPDR) has participated within IPA programmes either as lead or project partner with the objective to foster regional cooperation and share its best practices.
The main activities implemented by ACPDR within IPA FF will support Western Balkan countries in establishing, equipping, and training of the Ground Forest Firefighting (GFFF) civil protection modules. This should contribute to better preparedness to this risk in the region and to facilitate their cooperation within the Union Civil Protection Mechanism.