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Consolidating stability and achieving prosperity in the Western Balkans
The Western Balkans have joined the enlargement process with a view to their future accession to the European Union (EU). Several steps in the move towards European integration still need to be taken. The EU is committed to working with the countries of this region to set a suitable policy framework following the stabilisation and association process and the Thessaloniki Agenda. However, the implementation of this policy framework requires further efforts in the last stages needed to achieve stability and prosperity in the region.
Commission Communication of 27 January 2006: The Western Balkans on the road to the EU: consolidating stability and raising prosperity [COM(2006) 27 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The European Commission presents an appraisal of the implementation of the Thessaloniki Agenda, adopted in 2003, by the European Union (EU) and the countries of the Western Balkans.
It also makes recommendations concerning the consolidation and continuation of progress, to be achieved on the basis of the stabilisation and association process and the Thessaloniki Agenda.
Such developments are likely to foster closer ties between the EU and these countries, particularly in relation to the European perspective.
Report on the implementation of the Thessaloniki Agenda
Most of the commitments made in relation to the Thessaloniki Agenda have been fulfilled, by both the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans.
Political dialogue and cooperation on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) have been consolidated, in particular with regard to the alignment of the countries in the region on the common positions, approaches and declarations under the CFSP. An EU-Western Balkans political forum has been established and bilateral political dialogues have been extended to all countries in the Western Balkans.
The EU supports the strengthening of the institutions and the development of the economic and commercial structures in the countries of the region, in particular by encouraging their participation in Community programmes and agencies, and in the European Charter for Small Enterprises and the development of preferential trade measures. A dialogue between the Commission and each of the countries in the Western Balkans on economic issues is pursued on a regular basis.
Progress has also been achieved in the fields of justice, freedom and security, mainly thanks to Community support.
The EU pursues its peacekeeping and conflict-prevention missions in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the CFSP and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). It also actively supports the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (MINUK) and cooperates closely with the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government.
However, further efforts are still needed on matters concerning the return of refugees, reconciliation through education and, more generally, social and cultural development. Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is also still of fundamental importance.
Considerable progress still to be made
The Commission underlines the need to support trade and investment and also economic and social development. In this context, the reform process already under way to ensure the proper functioning of the markets and of competitiveness provides the basis for, and a necessary complement to, economic and political stability. Economic and commercial integration depends in particular on:
- the negotiation of stabilisation and association agreements (SAA) and the autonomous trade measures applied by the EU to imports from the region;
- the creation of a zone of diagonal cumulation of origin between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans which have concluded an SAA;
- the development of regional commercial integration;
- the accession of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia to the World Trade Organisation (WTO);
- the participation of the countries of the Western Balkans in calls for tender organised within the framework of the pre-accession instruments;
- support for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
- the promotion of social integration and employment, and also of social dialogue and the fight against exclusion.
The citizens of the Western Balkan countries, with the exception of Croatia, must have a visa to enter EU territory. The Commission plans to present draft mandates to the Council in 2006 for the negotiation of facilitation agreements with the countries of the Western Balkans. The agreements will be linked to the conclusion of readmission agreements with the same countries.
Furthermore, specific measures encourage exchanges for students and researchers from third countries, including two Directives dating from December 2004 and October 2005.
The Commission wishes to familiarise the people and institutions of the Western Balkans with the European agenda.
For instance, participation in Community programmes and agencies should foster the further integration of this region into the EU and the exchange of know-how and good practices.
It is essential for the administrative authorities to be prepared for European integration in terms of administrative and legal capacity in order for them to conform rapidly with Community legislation. Provision for this is made by twinning (the secondment of experts and advisers from the Member States to the administrative authorities of the countries concerned for a long period), through the support provided by the Technical Assistance Information Exchange Office (TAIEX) or under the customs and fiscal assistance programmes (CAFAO).
Various international players show wide-ranging commitment to regional cooperation through, for example, structures such as the Stability Pact. Although there has been some progress, regional cooperation challenges still need to be met in European policy fields in which the Western Balkan countries are becoming progressively involved, namely:
- justice, freedom and security. The fight against organised crime and border management are dealt with as priorities, particularly through the consolidation of the cross-border cooperation capacity of police and customs, and through the enhancement of regional prosecutor cooperation in organised crime cases and corruption-related crimes;
- parliamentary cooperation;
- energy. The Treaty between the EU and the partner countries of the region establishing the Energy Community was signed in October 2005. It provides a single framework for regulating energy with the aim of fostering energy networks involving the countries of the region and other international partners;
- cooperation on land and air transport;
- the environment. The countries in the region are part of the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme, currently being developed, and of the Balkan Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network (BERCEN);
- the protection and defence of cultural heritage.
The Commission proposes widening the civil society dialogue to include all the countries of the Western Balkans, thus going beyond the civil society dialogue proposed for the candidate countries (European Council of December 2004 and Communication (2005) 290 final of 29 June 2005). The EU therefore proposes in-depth political and cultural dialogue with the countries of the region, involving the active participation of civil society.
Issues of fundamental importance for the future of the region are still to be settled, such as the status of Kosovo and the constitutional reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.