Regional Police Cooperation Through the MARRI Projects

Regional police cooperation as part of international policing is becoming a more challenging and demanding issue for modern policing. The timely sharing of information serves as a fundamental tool for integrated regional police cooperation. The story of regional police cooperation becomes more challenging in areas like the Western Balkans (WB) region where the regional police services were often part of the war conflicts. Today, those same police services are the backbone for efficient regional police cooperation, promoting security as a foundation for further developments of the region.

There are several grounds for regional police cooperation, including perception of state sovereignty; legally determined police cooperation; convergence through regional trainings; cultural diversity in the region; language as a barrier to understanding; and combating organized crime demands police cooperation.

1. Introduction/Purpose/Problem Description

The regional police/law enforcement cooperation in the Balkans is progressing in a number of ways. One method is the MARRI Initiative, which will be in the focus of this analysis, or more precisely, the focus will be the MARRI Project BORDAIRPOL.1 This project, which involves air border policing in nine Southeast European countries, began in 2009 and will run until 2015. BORDAIRPOL’s goal is to build solid channels of communication between the Border Police Services of the main airports in Tirana, Albania; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Sofia, Bulgaria; Zagreb, Republic of Croatia; Skopje, Republic of Macedonia; Chisinau, Republic of Moldova; Podgorica, Montenegro; Bucharest, Romania; and Belgrade, Serbia.


The Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI) was formed in 2003 within the milieu of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe by merging the Regional Return Initiative (RRI) and the Migration and Asylum Initiative (MAI). Since April 2004, MARRI has been part of the framework of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). MARRI deals with the issue of population movements in the Western Balkans. The MARRI member states are the Republic of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro; and the Republic of Serbia. Each country has a representative state official at the MARRI Regional Centre (RC) in Skopje; four of whom are police officers and two of whom have diplomatic backgrounds. The MARRI RC has no law enforcement responsibilities or power.

The MARRI Regional Forum, which is the steering body of the initiative, is composed of the ministers of Interior from the six member states who hold a meeting at least once per year. Representatives from international partner organizations and donor countries are also invited to attend. The regional forum acts as a platform for coordination among the member countries and provides a way for MARRI to consult with its partners. The initiative is led by a presidency, which is held by one of the member countries on a rotating basis. The current presidency (2013–2014) is led by Croatia and will soon pass to Macedonia (2014–2015). The MARRI RC acts to support the implementation of the decisions made by the regional forum by carrying out practical cooperation and activities.

One of the aims of the RC is to facilitate and strengthen the ownership of regional cooperation. Today, the initiative is able to identify regional priorities, which is important from the perspective of EU integration of the member states, and to work on improving the regional cooperation situation.

The initiative is recognized as an important tool for solving regional problems in the field of migration and fostering regional cooperation and partnership. Beside the cooperation among the border police from the airports on an operational level, the project has established a network of cooperation on the strategic level, among the heads of the border police of the nine countries.

The Research

An evaluation of the regional police cooperation between the border police forces at the above-mentioned airports was conducted in 2013 as part of the European Union (EU)–funded COMPOSITE research project.[2] A questionnaire about various aspects of BORDAIRPOL was designed to collect data for the evaluation. As a result, data were collected from 37 respondents (police officers) for analysis.

The analysis of the regional police cooperation in the Balkan region was motivated by the following identified characteristics, which make it worthy of scrutiny in its own geographical and societal context:

  1. There are persistent feelings for state sovereignty, which was a strong factor for the state security in the previous political system, and until recently (end of the last century), the bilateral and regional cooperation was limited to symbolic, rather than intensive police cooperation. Today, the MARRI member states (MS), as independent states, are members of international law enforcement agencies. After the dissolution of the former Yugoslavian state and the transformation from totalitarian to democratic societies, the newly independent states became members of associations, initiatives, mutual centers, and networks established to improve the cooperation between law enforcement agencies based on mutual trust.
  2. The modalities for regional police cooperation are based on both national law and international instruments, which are recognized as sine qua non for the prevention of and fight against transnational organized crime. The modalities for cooperation are already established; however, there is room for further improvements.
  3. The regional trainings are in high demand due to the fact that they are effective forums in which police officers from other countries in the “neighborhood” are searching for regional solutions to regional problems.
  4. The cultural differences are evident even in the majority of the countries that were historically in the same state (Yugoslavia). Such cultural differences are even stronger with the states which were not a part of a former larger entity such as Yugoslavia, as they have historical differences, as well.
  5. The different languages spoken in the region (even though most languages belong to the Slavic group) affect the communication and may be recognized as a barrier. Following the standards of international law, English was introduced as the official language of the regional initiatives and the main language for the bilateral communication. However, language is still a substantial barrier in mutual understanding, the sharing of information between the police services, and building confidence, which thwarts fluent cooperation.
  6. The institutional relations between the national police forces and the regional organizations are fairly new, established roughly 15 years ago as a new reality for the prevention and battling of cross-border organized crime. The new paradigm for the regional organizations was extensively supported by U.S. and EU institutions that helped authorities in the WB (and other geographical regions, where the transformation from a totalitarian system to democracy was established) work together on security, in order to build confidence and improve performance in common activities. Information sharing in a safe and professional manner is the most essential approach. On the other hand, the national police agencies’ performances, their expectations, and how they support the regional organizations differ from state to state. However, the political support is evident, which allows for further, more professional developments between the national police agencies and the regional organizations.

The project implementation is supported by Frontex, with institutional measures and expert knowledge in the training modules. The project was also supported through a partnership between the South East Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA) and Police Cooperation Convention for South East Europe (PCC SEE).

The research project and evaluation was designed to give (a) deeper insight into the institutional law enforcement cooperation in the nine countries in South East Europe before the project started, at present (2013), and as predicted for the future; (b) the need for information sharing among airport police services; (c) the obstacles and facilitating circumstances identified through the BORDAIRPOL implementation; and (d) the solutions for improved regional cooperation.

2. Methodology
As a method of data collection, the following tools were implemented:
a. A questionnaire was offered translated in English, Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin; offering it in multiple languages ensures more complete feedback from the respondents (police officers).
b. Direct observations were made from within the MARRI project. (Two of the authors of this analysis were involved in the implementation of the project.)

3. Sample
The criteria for the selection of respondents was their active involvement in BORDAIRPOL project in one of the following capacities (1) strategic—heads of border police services; (2) operational—commanders of border police at airports; (3) heads or deputy heads of units, shift leaders, and advisors; (4) representatives and experts from partner countries and international organizations that participated in various workshops, seminars, study visits, and so forth; or (5) MARRI state officials involved in the project activities. A total of 60 individuals were targeted.

The data collection was conducted from August 2013 to October 2013, and 37 respondents (74 percent of those targeted) answered the questionnaire, either via the Internet or on paper. Of the 37 respondents, 29 were male (78 percent) and 8 were female (22 percent). In relation to age, most of the respondents were 46–55 years old (15 respondents or 40 percent), with 11 respondents (or 30 percent) falling into the age range of 27–35 years; 10 in the 36–45 years of age range (27 percent), and only one respondent over 56 years old (3 percent).

Although collected, the gender and age of respondents had no specific weight regarding the outcome of the interviews.

As demonstrated in Figure 2, which represents the geographic location of the respondents, it can be noted that most of them were from Macedonia (22 percent), and none of them were from Albania, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, or the Netherlands.

Of the 37 respondents, 8 were representatives of international organizations, including 1 individual from FRONTEX and 7 respondents from MARRI. None of the respondents were representatives of SEPCA or PCC SEE.

When it comes to their function and work positions, 11 respondents were police commanders, while the categories of shift leaders, advisors, national representatives, and others had 5 respondents each (for a total of 20). The remaining respondents were heads or deputy heads of units (4) and chiefs of the Border Police (2).

Only four of the respondents were not a part of the police (however, they were very familiar with airport policing), and the others had the following tenures in policing: two respondents had 3–5 year of experience policing; four had 5–10 years; thirteen had 10–20 years, and fourteen had over 20 years tenure in the police. Furthermore, when it comes to their levels of education, 24 respondents had bachelor’s degrees, 9 had master’s degrees, and 4 had doctorates.

4. Results
The questionnaire was designed for the purpose of evaluating the regional police cooperation between the police organizations among the main airports in nine countries in Southeast Europe, with the primary goal of identifying the barriers in the cooperative police work, the needs of the police, and the solutions for more efficient policing at the airports. In order to fulfill this purpose, the questionnaire was divided into three parts: (A) evaluation of overall cooperation; (B) cooperation between specific partners (social network analysis); and (C) demographics (analyzed in the methodology section above).

Part A. Evaluation of Overall Cooperation
Part A of the questionnaire was dedicated to the evaluation of overall cooperation. In Question No. 1, the respondents were asked to evaluate the cooperation on four grounds by choosing one of the five response options (Nearly non-existent; Insufficient; Sufficient; Good; Excellent). Most of the respondents rated the cooperation among border police on airports in Southeast Europe three years ago as “Good” (13 respondents; 35 percent), while 9 of them selected the option “Nearly non-existent” and “insufficient,” and the remaining 6 selected “Sufficient.” It is noteworthy that none of the respondents thought that the cooperation three years ago was “Excellent.” Their evaluation of current cooperation established that cooperation has improved, as there were no “Nearly non-existent” responses. Instead, 5 respondents rated the cooperation as “Excellent” (14 percent); 10 considered it to be “Sufficient” (28 percent), and half of them (18 respondents) evaluated the cooperation as “Good.” Compared to the 9 who ranked the state of cooperation three years ago as low, only 3 respondents thought that the current cooperation is “Insufficient.”

The conclusion drawn from the question for evaluating the current cooperation among the police on the airports confirmed the importance of having the right regional project, based on the needs of the end user, and having the various agencies connected through an interactive network to offer room for further improvements.

The follow-up activities include submission of the statistical data by all airport police units; utilization of the secured website developed and maintained by MARRI; and the identification of a list of users that will consist of police officers from the beneficiary countries, from all levels of the hierarchy in the airport police organizations. The secured website is a platform for the airport police officers to communicate and exchange information bilaterally or multilaterally. English is the language of communication.

Respondents were also asked to evaluate the current state of cooperation with other states and with international organizations. As seen from the annexed charts (Appendix 1), that cooperation was also rated as “Good” (18 respondents or 48 percent regarding the cooperation with other states, and 22 respondents or 61 percent regarding the cooperation with international organizations), and not one respondent thought that the cooperation is “Nearly non-existent.” Ten respondents thought that the cooperation with other states is “Sufficient” (26 percent), and the other 10 respondents thought that it is either “Insufficient” or “Excellent” (13 percent each). Concerning the current cooperation with international organizations, the rest of the respondents (those who did not select “Good”) split along similar lines; four respondents evaluated the cooperation as “Insufficient” (11 percent), five respondents selected “Sufficient” (14 percent), and five respondents ranked it “Excellent” (14 percent).

Several approaches developed within the BORDAIRPOL project contributed to the improvement of existing capacities and cooperation among border police in airports in Southeast Europe compared with the state of affairs three years ago; therefore, it resulted in improved outcomes of affected border police’s efforts to counteract irregular migration, terrorism, and crime, ensuring a high level of security. The following approaches can be seen as facilitators of cooperation:

— The establishment of new cooperation methods, such as annual meetings; joint regional trainings; study visits, workshops, and seminars; participation in joint operations organized under the auspices of Frontex; and exchange of experts.

— The development of new mechanisms for the exchange of information, such as formal links for communication (telephone, fax, email); Frontex’s “Pulsar weekly data collection questionnaire”; and the exchange of alerts on false documents.

In Question No. 2, the respondents were asked to evaluate the established methods of cooperation among border police, by marking one of the six given options (Very Inefficient; Inefficient; Sufficient; Efficient; Very Efficient; Not familiar with this method). Of the 37 respondents, an impressive number of them considered the Frontex cooperation activities to be “Very Efficient” methods of cooperation among border police (28 respondents). The regular meetings on an annual basis were also primarily marked as “Very efficient” and “Efficient” (15 respondents each). Most of the other methods were considered “Efficient,” including the regional projects; joint programs; study visits, workshops, and seminars; exchange of experts (15 respondents); mutual trainings; and other methods.

The evaluation of the mechanisms for formal exchange of information among border police was the subject of Question No. 3, and the same six options were given as response options. Once again, Frontex, or more precisely Frontex’s “Pulsar weekly data collection questionnaire,” was distinguished as a “Very efficient” mechanism (28 respondents). This method is followed by the formal links such as designated telephone and fax numbers and email addresses (17 respondents). The exchange of alerts on false documents; study visits, workshops, and seminars; and regular meetings were classified as “Efficient” (18 respondents each).

Recognizing the very high satisfaction with what Frontex and MARRI are doing to build police cooperation between the airport police from nine countries and to offer space with unique tools for maintaining such cooperation, it is evident that the national police services are not only eager participate, but also possess the capacity to contribute to the database, delegate part of the sovereignty for the common interest, and work toward improved regional cooperation in the field of airport policing.

Question No. 4 supplemented Question No. 3, as it measured the usage of the mechanisms for formal exchange of information. According to the respondents, most of the mechanisms for formal exchange of information are used on a monthly or quarterly basis. For example, Frontex’s “Pulsar weekly data collection questionnaire;” formal links (telephone, fax, email); and exchange of alerts on false documents are used monthly, while the other mechanisms are mostly used every three months.3

As the questionnaire’s primary purpose was to evaluate the regional police cooperation, the respondents indicated what kind of information is shared among border police and how often it is shared by answering Question No. 5. From the answers provided, it can be established that most of the information is shared “often.” For example, 19 respondents stated that the information concerning irregular migration is shared “often,” as is the statistical and operational data (17 respondents); asylum (16 respondents); capacity building and training; technical equipment (15 respondents each); alerts on false documents, document security and visa policies; and terrorism and serious crime (13 respondents each). Also, several respondents chose the option “neutral” about sharing the information on asylum (15 respondents); international and national legislation policy harmonization on the regional level (12 respondents); and other information types (10 respondents).4

When answering Question No. 6, the respondents shared their views about how much the cooperation and information exchange mechanisms contribute to an improvement of existing capacities of border police on international airports. It can be noted that the mechanisms for cooperation and information exchange have a “strong” impact over the improvement of existing capacities of border police in international airports. Specifically, most of the respondents considered that cooperation and information exchange capacities; the capacities to perform daily work based on the benefits gained from improved cooperation and information exchange; and analytical capacities (19 respondents each) have a strong impact on existing capacities. The same can apply to the operational capacities and training capacities (19 respondents each). The risk assessment capacities and the “other”’ mechanisms are also highly ranked (13 and 8 respondents thought that they strongly contribute to the improvement, respectively, and 16 and 11 respondents rated them neutral).

The activities that contribute to efforts to counteract irregular migration, terrorism, and crime ensuring high level of security on sustainable and permanent basis on international airports were the focus of Question No. 7. The most effective is the cooperation with Frontex or other international organizations (60 percent of the respondents think that it has a strong effect; 24 percent, some effect; and 16 percent, a very strong effect). However, the other activities should not be neglected because, according to the respondents, four of the six activities listed have a strong effect over the efforts to counteract irregular migration, terrorism, and crime by ensuring high level of security on a sustainable and permanent basis in international airports.

Question No. 8 measured the influence of several reasons provided for the cooperation in the aforementioned efforts to counteract irregular migration, terrorism, and crime ensuring a high level of security. A lack of expertise appears to affect the cooperation, since most of the respondents placed it in the group “affects” (35 percent), “strongly affects” (23 percent) and “affects very strongly” (35 percent). A strong effect is also attributed to political situations (18 respondents); the financial problems in some countries (15 respondents); and the decreasing willingness of national institutions to participate (15 respondents).5

When the respondents were asked whether they have suggestions for the improvement and extension of the cooperation (Question No. 9), 13 of them gave a positive answer (35 percent) and 24 gave a negative answer (65 percent). The ones that gave a positive answer were asked to mention “improvements” in terms of “better” cooperation and extension in the sense of “more” cooperation (Question No. 10). The most relevant were the following comments:

Culture: training for more tolerance, recognizing the cultural differences, and being positive in managing them;

Technology (IT): using compatible IT between the neighbors (which is a policy developed by EU), organize regional training for the police from all countries in the region on using the IT, exchanging information, and developing the database;

Language understanding: investing in learning English and other languages spoken in the region in individual and state policy;

Legal issues: implementing international instruments as much as possible and educate law enforcement to understand and implement the relevant standards;

Common Training: the same or shared training establishes “the alphabet” or basic commonality for regional partnerships.

The next three questions were dedicated to the respondents’ self-identification with the MARRI PROJECT (Question No. 11); the identification between the respondent’s institution and MARRI (Question No. 12); and the respondents’ self-identification with their institutions (Question No. 13). It can be concluded that the respondents identify themselves with the MARRI project because 20 respondents think that there is large overlap between them and the MARRI project and 6 respondents think that there is complete overlap. Six of the respondents think that there is only a small overlap, and 3 think that they and MARRI are close together, but separate.

Concerning the Question No. 12—identification between their institution and MARRI—7 (of the 19 who responded to this question) think that there is a complete overlap between the two; 5 respondents think that the institutions are close together, but separate; 3 of them think that there is a small overlap; 2 see a large overlap; and 2 believe that the institutions are far apart.

The answers by most of the respondents (7) are predictable as those are from the MARRI RC. The perceptions by the others are based on their opinion that they are from the states which are MARRI MS, and the initiative is strongly involved in the regional cooperation, which is also part of the national priorities. The answers of the respondents who see MARRI as far apart from their institution come from the states where MARRI is not known or were not involved in regional activities before the project started.

The last question in this group or Question No .13 was answered by 35 respondents, of which 91 percent identify closely with their own institutions: 51 percent (18 respondents) think that there is complete overlap, and 40 percent (14 respondents) think that there is a large overlap. The other 9 percent rate their identification as “close together, but separate” (6 percent; 2 respondents) and or far apart (3 percent; 1 respondent).

Part B. Cooperation between Specific Partners (Social Network Analysis)

Cooperation between specific partners was the subject of Part B. The specific question was depending on each respondent’s position and asked either what type of knowledge he or she mostly receives (Question No. 14) or what type of information he or she sends (Question No. 15). Although not all respondents answered these questions, it can be noted that the respondents mostly receive exchanged statistical, operational data, and risk analysis reports (irregular migration trends, routes, modus operandi, risk analysis capacities, relevant regulatory framework, capacity building and training, adequate technical equipment) from their police commanders, from the heads or deputy heads of their units, and from their shift leaders. It is also noteworthy that most respondents receive the fourth type of information (contacts and communication or discussions with contacts, as well as information, practices, and experiences) from the chief of the border police, the shift leaders, and the advisors.

Similar to the previous comments, that the respondents mostly sent statistical, operational, and risk analysis reports to the police commanders and to the heads or deputy heads of units. Information regarding close cooperation with other states and international organizations is sent to the chief of the border police and to the national representatives, while information drawn from data collection is sent to the heads or deputy heads of units. Contacts and communication or discussions with contacts, as well as information, practices, and experiences are shared with the chief of border police, national representatives, and advisors.

5. Discussion and Conclusions

The findings confirm the significant progress in border police cooperation developed by the MARRI project, and it also demonstrates the progress in the countries neighboring the MARRI region and the benefits of this project to the regional and European agencies like Frontex, EESO. The MARRI project is recognized as a means to keep the network alive and interactive through the secure website, which parties can use to communicate their questions (problem-oriented, methodological, local- or national-based aspects), while simultaneously benefiting from the access to a web-based communication tool for information sharing.

BORDAIRPOL helps the EU (and EU-oriented) countries improve their performances for regional cooperation, which is an important strategy in the EU integration process and serves as a model to EU countries looking to strengthen the cooperation and integrate the WB into the global EU police cooperation.

The creation and implementation of such a project is important from several aspects for MARRI, its MS police services; for the partner organizations, like Frontex, SEPCA, and PCC SEE; and for partners from the Zurich and Schiphol airports.

Through the participation of border police in strategic boards, the issue of airport policing is now considered an equally important issue to other branches of policing, which was not true a few years ago. This shift signifies additional possibilities for more synergy inside in the national and regional police services, between the police service and the regional organizations. In general, MARRI’s BORDAIRPOL offers multidimensional benefits, including prompt, efficient, and secure information sharing in the region, which, at the same time, develops the channels of cooperation, affects the partnerships and improves confidence between the parties, and finally, brings tangible results.♦

1 MARRI, (accessed July 28, 2014).
2 COMPOSITE Project, (accessed July 28, 2014).
3 It should be noted that regular annual meetings, workshops, or study visits have been organized on the basis of a formal schedule, a prepared in advanced action plan for implementation of BORDAIRPOL project activities. Additional meetings can be organized in case of urgent needs expressed by the beneficiary countries.
4 The “other information” section aims to offer the possibility to enumerate some information that was not specified in the list above. The questionnaire was not designed in such a manner that allows interviewees to give examples.
5 There are many assumed risks and reasons for this: for instance, it is expected for all parties to cooperate similarly in the network and if some party would like to utilize the network and not to contribute in it, then it could create disapproval and reconsideration of the will of the other parties to participate in the cooperation network.

Please cite as:

Trpe Stojanovski, Stojanka Mirceva, Katerina Krstevska, Rade Rajkovcevski, Toni Jakimovski, and Aleksandar Stojanovski, “Regional Police Cooperation Through the MARRI Projects,” The Police Chief 81 (August 2014): online.