Following the letter sent to the Council of Europe where we expressed concerns and reservations over the Report on the regional terrorism financing risk assessment of the not-for-profit (NPO) sector in the Western Balkans and Türkiye, the Council of Europe (CoE) initiated a meeting with BCSDN and all signatories of the letter to further the dialogue on the issues raised and discuss the challenges faced by NPOs in the region related to AML/CFT regulations and practices.
The meeting, held online on 05 September, was attended by CSO representatives from BCSDN members and partners and key and high-level representatives of the Council of Europe, as well as representatives of MONEYVAL. The discussion was opened by Ms. Hanne Juncher, Executive Secretary of GRECO and Head of the Action against Crime Department at the Council of Europe, who acknowledged the crucial contribution of civil society in the processes of strengthening security and preventing crime, and underlined the Council’s commitment to avoiding the unintended consequences of AML/CFT regulations, as well as a continuous dialogue with all relevant stakeholders.
The gathering, facilitated by Mr. Mustafa Ferati, Head of the Economic Crime and Cooperation Division at Council of Europe, allowed for the opening of a wider discussion and reflection on the concerns raised in the letter. These concerns, explained in detail here, revolve mainly around the methodology, and concretely the relevance and validity of the regional approach and the data collection deficiencies, then the framing and presentation of the findings considered damaging to the NPO sector due to the perceived labeling and blanket classifications without any mitigation measures provided, and finally the impact and use of the report in the next period. CSO representatives from WBT reflected on this in more detail at the meeting, demanding that the Council ensures a revision and careful framing of the report in terms of the language used, as well as in terms of how it is communicated, to raise caution about the deficiencies of the report and to avoid any potential misuse by governments in the region. Furthermore, a more cautious and nuanced approach should ensure that the possibility of governments using this regional assessment as their own national risk assessment is avoided, having in mind that even where ML/TF risks are regional, they cannot be addressed at a regional level and necessitate targeted national measures.
On the side of the Council of Europe, Mr. Evgeni Evgeniev, Head of Unit at the Economic Crime and Cooperation Division and a CoE expert directly involved in the development of the report, provided more detail on the context in which the report was produced within the Horizontal Facility Regional Action against Economic Crime in Western Balkans and Türkiye and reflected on all the points raised by CSOs. The main points made by Mr. Evgeniev were that the report is a genuine regional assessment, not an aggregation of national risks, based on a complex methodology for identifying regional risk factors, which is a novel exercise for the region. While expressing more confidence in the methodology, noting it was prepared in consultations with relevant CoE experts experienced in working with civil society, and less in its implementation, Mr. Evgeniev acknowledged the difficulty of obtaining data and the need to provide further clarifications and caution about the report’s further use. He also stressed that the aim of the report is to trigger further regional follow-up and propose actions to be considered on the regional level, as well as to encourage further outreach and dialogue with the main stakeholders over the mid-to-long term around all the challenges that remain to be addressed in the area covered by the report.
After a detailed and fruitful discussion, an agreement was reached for a careful revision of the text to be made in order to ensure that there is no room for misinterpretation by institutions. By revising, in cooperation with the CSOs, the parts considered as labeling for certain parts of the sector, the report should further clarify the findings and expand on the mitigating measures, advising governments on how to better protect CSOs that are exposed to the identified risks and enable them to effectively do their work. CoE experts acknowledged the need to fill the gaps to remedy the unintended consequences and the additional efforts needed to ensure that applying the report’s recommendations for compliance purposes would not go against CSOs and their legitimate activities.
The meeting served as a reminder that, through ensuring a regular and meaningful dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, we must safeguard that any regulation or practice in our region prompted by the Council’s activities or positions, such as the report in question, do not go against the fundamental civic rights, do not lead to any further shrinking of civic space and instead contribute to a more enabling environment for civil society in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.