EU membership perspective for the Balkans [Archived]

The Commission adopted a Communication on the Western Balkans and European Integration on 21 May 2033, proposing pre-accession type relations with the region. A new European Integration Partnership is to be created under this proposal as an instrument for monitoring the progress of the reform process in the Balkans countries.

Background

The European Union's Balkans policy stems from its strategic interest in ensuring lasting peace and stability in its immediate neighbourhood. On 17 May 1999, the EU General Affairs Council of the EU agreed upon the establishment of a Stability Pact for the Balkan countries.

The Stability Pact, a plan to stabilise the region after the end of the conflict, includes an open trading area, a Balkan economic regeneration plan and a new class of bilateral agreements for relations with the EU.

The EU has introduced a new type of bilateral Stabilisation and Association Agreements in June 2000 between the EU and the countries most affected by the crisis in Kosovo as its contribution to a Stability Pact for the Balkans. These agreements will give Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro a long-term prospect of joining the EU. They are based on the gradual implementation of a free trade area and reforms designed to achieve the adoption of EU standards with the aim of moving closer to the Union.

Macedonia was the first to conclude a Stabilisation and Association Agreement on 9 April 2001.

Croatia was the second of the five Balkans countries to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement on 29 October 2001. The agreement gives Croatia privileged access to EU markets while obliging it to adapt its legislation and administration to EU standards.

The EU plans to draw up a feasibility study at the EU-Balkans Summit on 21 June in Thessaloniki on whether it should open negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia-Montenegro.

Issues

The European Commission has called for pre-accession type of relations with the Balkan countries in its Communication on the Western Balkans and European Integration, adopted on 21 May 2003.

The Stabilisation and Association process, governing the EU's relations with five Balkan countries is to be upgraded with pre-accession strategy elements to reflect the positive experience of the Union's current enlargement process.

The Communication proposes to establish European Integration Partnership as an instrument for monitoring the progress of the reform process in the Balkans countries. One of the main aims is to build strong and stable states, to defeat organised crime and corruption and to implement political and economic reforms that could eventually lead to membership of the Union.

The Communication will be discussed at the EU-Balkans summit in Thessaloniki on 21 June 2003, where the status of the Balkans countries as potential candidates for EU membership is to be boosted.

Positions

The integration of the Balkans into European structures, ultimately leading to EU membership, is a high priority for the Union, EU leaders will tell their Balkan counterparts at the Thessaloniki Summit on 21 June 2003 . The Thessaloniki Summit will proclaim "the Western Balkans and support to their preparation for future integration into European structures and ultimate membership into the Union is a high priority for the EU." "The Balkans will be an integral part of a unified Europe," states the draft Thessaloniki Declaration, to be adopted by the Summit. The EU leaders will call on their Balkan counterparts to use the ongoing enlargement as inspiration and encouragement "to follow the same successful road of reforms and to increase their efforts in that direction".

The Thessaloniki Summit is expected to strengthen the EU's policy of Stabilisation and Association, which has guided the Union's Balkan policy for the last four years. The renewed strategy will be enriched with elements from the enlargement process, so that it can better meet the new challenges, as the Balkan countries move from stabilisation and reconstruction to association and integration into European structures. The EU intends to apply the upgraded Stabilisation and Association Agreements as the overall framework for the European course of the Western Balkan countries, all the way to their future accession.

"The map of the European Union will not be complete until the countries of the Western Balkans are included on it. What we are proposing today shows that the EU will do all it can to help these countries prepare themselves, and that our wish to see them one day as fellow members is real," said EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten at the presentation of the Communication on the Western Balkans and European Integration on 21 May 2003.

The European Parliament has called for the reinforcement of the Stabilisation and Association Process for South-Eastern Europe, including the use of enlargement policy instruments. In a resolution on the EU's relations with South-Eastern Europe, adopted on 5 June 2003, the Parliament conceded that integration of the Stability Pact countries would take considerable time. The Parliament proposes introducing the following policy instruments for the Balkan countries:

  • introducing yearly benchmarks for measuring each country's reform process;
  • involving these countries in the EU's foreign and defence policies; < li>improving the implementation of the Stability programmes CARDS and PHARE;
  • opening up of educational exchange programmes Socrates and Leonardo;
  • removing visa requirements for the EU;
  • drawing up a feasibility study into extending the Stabilisation and Association Process to Moldova.

The presidents of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia- Montenegro have called on the EU to set a timetable for their integration into the Union. At a regional summit in Ohrid, Macedonia on 2 June 2003, the Balkan leaders discussed a joint strategy to join the EU as full members. They stated that the 21 June EU-Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki will represent an extraordinary opportunity to make concrete progress towards European integration. They urged the EU to send "a strong political message" to the people of the Balkans that the Union is committed to the integration of this region.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic has received praise from the EU for progress with reforms and assurances that the Union's door will be open to Serbia & Montenegro. Mr Zivkovic told Commission President Romano Prodi and High Representative Javier Solana on 20 May 2003 that Serbia was capable of carrying out the necessary political and economic reforms to allow it to join the EU in 2007, together with Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.

Romania's chief negotiator with the EU, Minister Delegate Vasile Puscas, has called for the strengthening of the stability process in South-Eastern Europe, notably Moldavia. Minister Puscas told an international conference, entitled "Romania and Moldavia on the new Geopolitical Map of the Region", taking place in Bucharest on 31 May 2003, that Romania would strengthen its support for the efforts of the South-Eastern European countries, especially Moldavia, towards regional stability and cooperation.

The European Stability Initiative (ESI) , an international think-tank on Balkan affairs, accused the western efforts to run Bosnia and Hercegovina of turning it into a "European Raj", using the methods of the British in India in the 19th century. ESI's report "Travails of the European Raj: Lessons from Bosnia and Herzegovina", released in July 2003, says that by excercising absolute powers in Bosnia, the international community is frustrating the establishment of a functioning democracy in the country.

Timeline

The EU is planning to upgrade its Stabilisation and Association Process with the Balkan countries at the EU-Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki on 21 June 2003.  

Further Reading

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