EU-Western Balkans relations

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The EU's main objective for the Western Balkans region (South East Europe) is to create a situation where military conflict is unthinkable – expanding to the region the area of peace, stability, prosperity and freedom, established over the last fifty years in the European Union. The countries of Western Balkans have all been given the prospect of EU membership.

Background

In the wake of the violent conflicts that marked the recent history of the Western Balkans region, the EU considers it a priority to promote the development of peace, stability, prosperity and freedom in the South Eastern European countries of Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.

In fact, in EU documents, Macedonia and Kosovo do not even appear under those names: Macedonia is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to a Greek province. The former Serbian province of Kosovo is referred to in the report as "Kosovo under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99" because the country's unilateral independence has not been recognised by Greece, Spain, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus.

Croatia is discussed in a separate LinksDossier on account of the advanced stage of negotiations with the country. The framework for the EU's approach is the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), which is designed to encourage and support domestic reform processes. In the long run, SAP offers these countries the prospect of full integration into the EU's structures, provided that certain political and economic conditions are met.

The Lisbon European Council of March 2000 stated that signing Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs) with Western Balkan countries should be considered a key step on the road to full membership. During the fifth EU enlargement, the pre-accession legal base was called 'Europe Association Agreements'. The assistance programme for the Western Balkans is called CARDS (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation), while for the countries of the fifth enlargement, the programme was PHARE.

The Thessaloniki EU Council of 19-20 June 2003 reconfirmed the EU membership persective of the Western Balkans and decided to strengthen political cooperation, enhance institution-building and implement further trade measures to promote economic growth.

The European Union's current enlargement process is taking place against the backdrop of a deep and widespread recession, with the financial and economic crises affecting both the EU and the enlargement countries themselves, according to the 2009-2010 Enlargement Strategy, published on 14 October 2009. 

Issues

Albania:

  • 1992: Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Albania. Albania becomes eligible for funding under the PHARE programme.
  • 1999: The EU proposes a new Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) for five countries of the region, including Albania.
  • 2000: Feira European Council states that all the SAP countries are "potential candidates" for EU membership.
  • 2003: On 31 January, the Commission officially launches the negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Albania.
  • Between 1991 and 2004 the EU allocates a total of 1,273 million euro to Albania, mostly under the PHARE and CARDS (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation) programmes.
  • Currently, the EU's main priorities in the country include strengthening public administration and the judiciary; developing police and public order; enhancing the customs service; developing public services and infrastructure; improving the system of education; and strengthening democracy and human rights.
  • The SAA is still being negotiated with Tirana. Talks began in January 2003.
  • 2004:  In June, the Council reaches a decision on the principles of a European Partnership for Albania.
  • Dec. 2005: European Council decides on revision of the European Partnership for Albania.
  • 12 June 2006: Albania becomes the third Western Balkan state to sign an SAA with the EU.
  • Sept. 2007: EU signs visa facilitation agreement with Albania, which entered into force on 1 January 2008.
  • June 2008: European Commission presents a roadmap identifying specific requirements for visa liberalisation with Albania.
  • 1 April 2009: Entry into force of SAA.
  • 28 April 2009: Albania submitted its application for EU membership.
  • 14 Oct. 2009: The latest Commission progress report stated that it would return to the country's application once the Albanian election procedure had been completed. Ever since the June national elections, the two main players, the governing Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Socialist party led by main challenger Edi Rama keep accusing each other of fraud. Albania needs to make progress, in particular regarding the rule of law and the fight against corruption, as well as the proper functioning of state institutions, especially the independence of the judiciary, the Commission paper says. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH):

  • 1995: The Dayton/Paris Peace Agreement brings the war to an end and establishes the Federation of BiH and the Republika Srpska.
  • 1998: EU declaration establishes the EU/BiH Consultative Task Force (CTF), a joint vehicle for technical and expert advice in the field of administration, the regulatory framework and policies.
  • 2000: The EU roadmap sets out 18 essential steps to be undertaken by BiH before work on a feasibility study for the opening of negotiations on an SAA can be begun.
  • 2000: Feira European Council states that all the countries covered by the SAP are potential candidates for EU membership.
  • 2001: First year of the CARDS assistance programme specifically designed for the SAP countries.
  • 2004: In June, the EU decides on a European partnership for BiH.
  • 2004: In December, EUFOR replaces SFOR ('Althea' operation).
  • Oct. 2005: Commission recommends to Council to open talks on a SAA.
  • Nov. 2005: Council gives green light to opening SAA talks with BiH.
  • Jan. 2006: SAA talks formally open.
  • March 2007: Commission warns that it will not conclude SAA talks unless the country makes progress on reforming its police and cooperates with the UN War Crimes Tribunal.
  • July 2007: Miroslav Lajcak is appointed EU High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He left the post on 29 February 2009. 
  • Dec. 2007: EU initials talks on a SAA, considered a key accord towards future EU accession.
  • 16 April 2008: Bosnian parliament approves police reform plan, a key EU demand before signing SAA.
  • 16 June 2008: The bloc's foreign ministers sign SAA.
  • 31 July 2008: BiH and European Commission sign financing agreement for instrument for pre-accession assistance's (IPA) national programme for 2007.
  • 26 March 2009: Valentin Inzko becomes new High Representative/EU Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Macedonia:

  • 1996: Macedonia, also called former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the insistence of Greece, with which the country still has to resolve a 'name dispute', becomes eligible for EU funding.
  • 2000: Council adopts negotiating directives for an SAA under the 1999 SAP.
  • 2001: FYROM becomes first country in the region to sign an SAA. It entered into force on 1 April 2004.
  • A civil war was fought in first half of 2001 between the government and ethnic Albanian insurgents. It ended thanks to the intervention of NATO. Under the terms of the Ohrid Agreement, negotiated with Western mediation, the government gave greater political power to the Albanian minority.
  • 2003: Mission 'Concordia', the first-ever EU military mission, started operations with a six-month mandate.
  • 22 March 2004: Macedonia submits application for EU membership.
  • Through the CARDS programme, the EU has allocates a budget of 173 million euro to Macedonia for the period 2001-2004.
  • April 2005: Commission approves a 34.5 million euro CARDS aid package for Macedonia for 2005.
  • 9 Nov. 2005: Commission recommends granting candidate member status to Macedonia.
  • 17 Dec. 2005: Council decides to grant candidate status to the country. However, no date is specified for the start of membership talks.
  • Feb. 2006: Macedonia becomes member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).
  • 2 April 2008: At the NATO summit in Bucharest, Macedonia's EU hopes suffer a setback following the country's failure to overcome Greek opposition to Macedonia joining the alliance as long as it does not change its name. Greece thinks the name 'Macedonia' should be reserved for a Northern Greek region.
  • May 2008: Commission presents a roadmap setting out a number of benchmarks for visa liberalisation with Macedonia.
  • June 2008: French EU Presidency indicated that Macedonia should solve its 'name dispute' with Greece.
  • 16 July 2009: European Commission proposes to the Council to lift EU visa requirements for citizens of Macedonia. The move is expected to become effective from 1 January 2010.
  • 14 Oct. 2009: European Commission recommends opening accession negotiations. However, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn says Macedonia must strive to develop friendly relations with its neighbours and finally settle its name dispute with Greece.

Serbia:

Until 2006 Serbia included the Republic of Montenegro, but the latter seceded peacefully following a referendum. The UN placed the Serbian province of Kosovo under an interim international civil and military administration following the 1999 conflict, and in February 2007 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence. Serbia considers this act illegal.

  • In total, combining CARDS (previously OBNOVA), macro-financial and humanitarian assistance, EU funding for Serbia and Montenegro has amounted to more than 2.9 billion euro since 1991.
  • In April 2005, Commission approves a 184 million euro CARDS aid package for Serbia and Montenegro for 2005.
  • In April 2005, Council calls on the Commission to open negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement "as soon as possible".
  • April 2005: Commission adopts a feasibility report which concludes that Serbia and Montenegro is prepared to negotiate a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU.
  • 1 March 2006: Adoption of a special law on the referendum on legal status for the state of Montenegro.
  • 3 May 2006: EU suspends further talks on SAA with Serbia due to insufficient cooperation with the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICTY) on the arrest of wanted war criminals, such as former general Ratko Mladic.
  • Following the formation of a new pro-democracy government in Serbia on 15 May 2007, the EU concludes visa facilitation and re-admission agreements.
  • Nov. 2007: EU initials a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which was ready for signature in February 2008 but had to be delayed due to disagreement within the coalition government whether its signature would imply recognition of Kosovo's drive for independence.
  • 17 Feb. 2008: Kosovo declares its independence from Serbia, which immediately declares the act illegal. Violent protests break out in Kosovo. So far, 20 out of 27 EU member states have recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state.
  • 9 March 2008: Serbian government collapses over different views regarding the country's further rapprochement to the EU, with the nationalist party of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica ruling out signing the SAA with the EU at all if it refuses to reverse its stance on Kosovo. President Boris Tadic calls for early elections in May.
  • 29 April 2008: Just two weeks ahead of the elections, Tadic signs the SAA with the EU, ignoring calls from Kostunica and his nationalist party not to take any steps before a new government is in place. The EU had strongly pushed for the agreement, hoping to give a boost to the pro-European camp.
  • Following a tough campaign which even saw President Tadic receive death threats over the signature of the SAA and polls showing the Tadic and Kostunica camps neck-and-neck, pro-EU forces unexpectedly emerged as the clear winners in the 11 May elections. However, they were not able to govern alone and depended on the Socialist Party of former dictator Slobodan Milosevic to form a government.
  • 23 June 2008: Pro-European forces around Tadic's Democratic Party agree to form a government with the Socialists of former dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
  • 7 July 2008: Following 11 May parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government, Serbia sets European integration as a key priority.
  • 21 July 2008: Serbian authorities arrest Europe's most wanted war criminal Radovan Karadzic and pledge to extradite him to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The step was hailed by EU leaders as a "milestone" on Serbia's road to EU membership.
  • Feb. 2009: Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn advises Belgrade not to rush its formal application for EU membership. The main reason for this is that the SAA is yet to enter into force, mainly due to opposition from The Netherlands to giving its green light until war criminals Ratko Mladi? and Goran Hadži? are captured and brought to justice.
  • 16 July 2009: European Commission proposes to the Council to lift the visa requirement for Serbian citizens. The move is expected to become effective from 1 January 2010.
  • 14 Oct. 2009: Latest Commission progress report praises Belgrade for its "ambitious programme" to join the Union and for possessing the administrative capacity to make "substantial progress towards the EU". Serbia is also asked to demonstrate a more cooperative attitude toward Kosovo's participation in formats of regional cooperation.

Montenegro:

  • 21 May 2006: Referendum on Montenegro's independence from Serbia (55.5% vote for seperation of Serbia; 44.5% of voters want to remain with Serbia).
  • 3 June 2006: Montenegro's declaration of independence formally adopted by Montenegrin parliament.
  • July 2006: Council adopts Commission's mandate for negotiating the SAA, which was concluded in March 2007.
  • 13 Nov. 2006, Commission opens negotiations on Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements, which are concluded in November 2007 and enter into force in January 2008.
  • 22 Jan. 2007: Council adopts European Partnership for Montenegro.
  • 15 Oct. 2007: Signature of SAA, along with an Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related matters (IA), which entered into force on 1 January 2008.
  • 19 Oct. 2007: Montenegrin parliament adopts a constitution, largely in line with European standards.
  • 6 April 2008: Incument pro-European President Filip Vujanovic wins re-election in a vote seen as further affirmation of the country's march towards further EU integration.
  • 15 Dec. 2008: Montenegro submits application for EU membership.
  • 23 April 2009: Council invites the Commission to submit its opinion on Montenegro's application.
  • 16 July 2009: Commission proposes to the Council to lift the visa requirement for citizens of Serbia. The move is expected to become effective from 1 January 2010.
  • 14 Oct. 2009: Commission progress report states that work on the preparation of the opinion is ongoing, adding that Montenegro will need to demonstrate concrete results on consolidating the rule of law, and particularly on judicial reform and the fight against corruption.
  • 17 Dec. 2010: Council confirms Montenegro as a candidate country.
     

Kosovo:

  • 17 Feb. 2008: Kosovo declares its independence from Serbia. Most EU states and the US are quick to recognise the new state, while Serbia and its main ally Russia consider this unilateral step a violation of international law.
  • Feb. 2008: EU decides to deploy a rule of law mission to Kosovo, under the title 'EULEX Kosovo'. The motivation behind the launch of EULEX is highly political, with the Union determined to take over post-crisis management in a territory on the European continent.
  • 15 June 2008: Kosovo's constitution enters into force.
  • 11 July 2008: Commission secures €1.2 billion in financial assistance for Kosovo at an international donors conference held in Brussels.
  • 14 Oct. 2009: Commission progress report criticises Kosovo's authorities for recent incidents which resulted in the damage of more than 20 vehicles belonging to EULEX. The report points out that major challenges remain, including the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the strengthening of administrative capacity, the protection of the Serb and other minorities, and enhancing dialogue and reconciliation between communities. 

Timeline

  • 19-20 June 2003: The Thessaloniki European Council confirmed the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which will become an integral part of the EU, once the countries meet the established criteria.
  • 2 Feb. 2007: UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented a plan outlining the resolution of the final status of Kosovo to leaders in Serbia and Kosovo. The EU urged both parties to find a compromise.
  • 17 Feb. 2008: Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, receiving backing from the US and most of the EU member states. Serbia called the move 'illegal', ruling out it would support an independent Kosovo at any point. Up to now Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain have not recognized Kosovo.
  • 29 April 2008: The EU signs a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia, seen as a key step towards future full membership.
  • 16 June 2008: The EU signs a SAA with Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the country's approval of police reform, one of the EU's key demands.
  • 19-20 June 2008: The European Council stated EU's 'willingness to assist the economic and political development of Kosovo through a clear European perspective, in line with the European perspective of the region'.
  • 23 June 2008: Agreement in Serbia to form a pro-European government.
  • 21 July 2008: Serbian police captures Radovan Karadzic.
  • 30 Oct. 2008: 7th meeting of the Accession Conference at deputy level sees number of negotiation chapters closed for Croatia reach four out of the twenty-one open.
  • 16 July 2009: European Commission proposes to the Council to lift EU visa requirements for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The move is expected to become effective as of 1 January 2010.
  • 29 Sept. 2009: Slovenia unblocks Croatia's accession negotiations, which had remained stalled for months over a border dispute.
  • 14 Oct. 2009: EU publishes a new enlargement strategy which appears to mark a shift from enlargement rounds to tailor-made future accessions. 

Further Reading

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