Illicit trafficking of cultural goods, intensified in conflict and disaster-affected regions, poses significant concern for the international community. This trafficking not only seeks to erase cultural memories but also funds terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering. The global community bears the responsibility to safeguard this cultural heritage, as it faces threats from transnational crime networks.
Similarly, environmental crimes, predominantly executed by organized crime groups, adversely impact human health, air, soil, and water quality. Despite their severe consequences, such environmental offenses are often downplayed and under-investigated at various governance levels. Furthermore, both environmental and cultural heritage crimes frequently link to other criminal activities, including extortion and fraud.
The European Union (EU) continuously emphasizes the critical importance of preserving cultural heritage and the environment. To address the rising concerns, the EU has instated several policies to counter the illegal trade of cultural artifacts and environmental crimes. These policies are also geared towards supporting countries aiming to join the EU, such as the Republic of North Macedonia.
Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations, the EU Commission Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council stresses both the key role of inter-cultural dialogue in the promotion of reconciliation and the need to combat trafficking of heritage. This involves ramping up training for law enforcement and fostering cooperation among nations and art market professionals. This initiative is also in line with the EU Western Balkans Strategy, which aims to protect cultural heritage in the region and halt the illicit trade in cultural goods. On the other side, the Sofia Declaration encourages Western Balkan countries to bolster their administrative capabilities to align with the Green Agenda. This includes enforcing environmental obligations, ensuring public participation, and emphasizing transparency in environmental matters.
Within this framework, aligning with North Macedonia’s National Strategy for environment protection 2017-2027, and with the Ministry of Culture’s 2022-2024 Strategic Plan, the project seeks to enhance the capacities of the judiciary and law enforcement in addressing environmental crimes and to combat crimes against cultural heritage.
The twinning project will be implemented by the Italian Consortium under the lead of Arma dei Carabinieri, together with Eutalia as Mandated Body and will assist the institutions of Republic of North Macedonia, first and foremost the Ministry of Interior – Department for Suppression of Organised and Serious Crime (DSOSC), in their effort to enhance the institutional setup and the practical instruments for countering illicit trafficking of cultural heritage and environmental crime.
In particular, the general objective of the project is to strengthen the institutional capacities for environmental and cultural heritage protection with particular focus on crimes against cultural heritage and the environment.
The specific objective is to strengthen the strategic and operative capacities of the Ministry of Interior and relevant institutions for prevention, investigation and prosecution of criminal cases against the environment and movable and immovable cultural heritage.
The project will seek for a practical approach, focusing on operational and practical capacities, including organizational and administrative enhancements, investigation and prevention capacities, information exchange with EU Institutions and EU Countries Institutions, international relations, under the technical guidance of the Carabinieri Organization for the safeguard of forests, the environment and the agribusiness sector, and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
The project will last 21 months, starting in October 2023, with a granted contribution of 1M€.