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Integration into the European Union
Strengthen the European Union's stabilisation and association policy with regard to the countries of South-Eastern Europe and set up a programme of integration of these countries into the EU.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 21 May 2003 "The Western Balkans and European integration" [COM(2003) 285 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The integration of the countries of the Western Balkans into the European Union has become an EU priority. To reach that goal, the stabilisation and association process must be strengthened, using the process of EU enlargement to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as a benchmark. It is fundamental that those countries share their experience with the countries of South-Eastern Europe. The way the integration process develops will depend in the last resort on each country's aptitude and commitment.
Measures to strengthen the stabilisation and association process
The communication points out that consideration should be given to introducing integration partnerships for the countries of the Western Balkans. These partnerships would list the efforts to be made by each country in order to move closer to the EU. The list of short and medium-term measures to be carried out would serve as a checklist against which to measure progress made by each country towards accession, and to determine the priorities for assistance under the CARDS programme. For their part, the countries of the region would prepare action plans to implement the priorities of the integration partnerships. Progress would be monitored regularly by the Commission, notably in the Annual Reports.
"Twinning" (secondment of civil servants from EU Member States to the candidate countries to pass on their experience) has proved very effective for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It contributes positively to institution building in the candidate countries. The CARDS programme has been organising twinning programmes for certain Western Balkan countries since October 2002. To promote institution building, the Commission is also encouraging the founding of an institute for higher education on public administration reform.
The communication recommends enhancing cooperation on justice and home affairs. A dialogue is to be set up in this area with the countries of the region. Issues of great importance for the countries of South-Eastern Europe, such as EU visa and migration policy, will be discussed in depth. The countries of the region should draw up plans to fight against organised crime.
The Commission suggests that the countries of the Western Balkan participate in selected Community programmes to help them familiarise themselves with Community policies and working methods.
The Commission will continue to support economic development, trade and the transition to a viable market economy. The countries of the Western Balkans must make full use of the potential afforded by the trade measures adopted and the free trade agreements concluded amongst themselves or with the EU. The Commission will adopt measures to improve the countries' ability to take advantage of the preferential trade measures. The environment in which small and medium-sized enterprises operate must be improved. To achieve this, the principles enshrined in the European Charter for Small Enterprises should be applied. The Commission proposes to set up an economic dialogue with these countries and, possibly, to widen the domestic energy market.
The CARDS programme continues to be the main financial instrument to support the stabilisation and association process. The Commission proposes to increase its budget. It is also willing to examine the possibility of granting exceptional macro-financial aid to the countries of the region, in cooperation with international institutions.
The communication encourages regional cooperation between the countries of the region and cross-border cooperation with EU Member States.
The communication advocates parliamentary cooperation by strengthening the parliaments of the countries of the region and integrating them into regional and international parliamentary structures.
Political cooperation is also recommended. The Western Balkans should be invited to associate themselves with EU Common Positions and declarations made in the framework of the CFSP. Political dialogue between the EU and the countries of the region should be more intensive and more regular.