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2003 evaluation of the stabilisation and association process
To review progress with the stabilisation and association process (linking the European Union and south-eastern Europe) since April 2002 and point out shortcomings, challenges for the future and measures to be taken to consolidate the process.
Report from Commission of 26 March 2003: The Stabilisation and Association Process for South-Eastern Europe - Second Annual Report [COM(2003)139 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
This report is the second of its kind. The first report was published in April 2002. The 2003 report confirms the EU accession prospects of the countries of south-eastern Europe and reviews trends and challenges in the region. It looks at implementation of the CARDS programme and the trade measures applied. The report is accompanied by the national reports analysing each country's progress, assessing the degree to which the recommendations of the 2002 report have been implemented and pointing out areas in which action must be taken within the next twelve months.
Situation in the Western Balkans
The political situation in south-eastern Europe has improved over the last year. The countries have adhered to democratic principles. The reform and modernisation of public administrations and judicial systems has continued. Respect for human rights and the protection of minorities has improved. However, certain problems persist in the functioning of institutions and in governmental culture, such as exertion of political influence on the judiciary and media. Organised crime and corruption have become endemic. The countries of the region must make greater efforts to carry out the necessary reforms in the various areas concerned.
Economic growth in the Balkans was greater than world economic growth in 2002, at around 4%. Unemployment and the public deficit remain high. Trade with the EU and the rest of the world continues to grow. However, the level of trade between the countries in the region remains low. There is insufficient direct foreign investment in the countries of south-eastern Europe, and poverty is widespread.
There has been progress with regional cooperation, a key element of the EU's policy in the area, particularly in the fields of energy, trade, transport and judicial and police cooperation.
Challenges for the future
Over the next twelve months, the Balkans will have to take up the following challenges:
- strengthening democracy and the proper functioning of the State;
- more effective implementation of the stabilisation and association process;
- social and economic development;
- respecting the right of refugees and displaced persons to return home;
- tackling organised crime and corruption.
Relations between the EU and the Balkans
The following conclusions can be drawn from the report:
- the stabilisation and association process is an accession strategy for south eastern Europe;
- the process has stabilised the Balkans but it must be stepped up, incorporating elements used in the context of the accession of the countries of central and eastern Europe;
- the EU has confirmed its commitment to the region and its intention to work for a closer relationship, but stresses that progress depends on the will of the countries concerned;
- the progress made in a number of countries is not sufficient and the recommendations of the first evaluation report have not always been followed;
- an effort must be made to improve communication in order to convey to the citizens of the region the advantages of a closer relationship with the EU.
The EU applies a system of trade preferences to the region, allowing duty-free access for nearly all products without quantitative restrictions. These measures have boosted trade between the EU and the Balkans.
In 2002 the CARDS programme of assistance for reconstruction, development and stabilisation focused on infrastructure and the stabilisation of democracy, justice and home affairs. Priority is now being given to strengthening institutions (in particular giving the authorities the necessary capacity to implement the stabilisation and association process) and to justice and home affairs.
The situation in each country
Albania has followed the recommendations of the 2002 evaluation report in part. In 2002 Albania enjoyed sufficient political stability to hold presidential elections. However, there are still problems with the operation of the rule of law. Trafficking in human beings and drugs, organised crime and corruption continue to be major problems. Albania's economic performance has not been as good as expected. Negotiations to conclude a stabilisation and association agreement began in January 2003.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's adherence to basic democratic principles was confirmed at the general elections held in October 2002. Nevertheless, organised crime and corruption continue to be major problems. Economic growth has slowed and the country is heavily dependent on international aid. It must accelerate the pace of reform to allow it to complete the reconstruction stage and start on the reforms necessary for integration in the EU. Progress has been made in the stabilisation and association process.
Croatia continues to be politically stable. However, its attitude to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is still problematic. The weakness of the judiciary, corruption and organised crime are also problems. The economic situation is improving, but unemployment remains too high. As part of its implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, Croatia has begun aligning its legislation with the Community acquis. Work must be started on strengthening the country's administrative capacity.
Normalisation of the political situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is well advanced. Nevertheless, the pace of reforms, including the decentralisation of public administration, should be stepped up. Other reform priorities are security and the judiciary. Economic results have not lived up to forecasts. The country needs to complete the preparatory work necessary to implement the Stabilisation and Association Agreement when it enters into force.
The report deplores the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic. Serbia and Montenegro improved its political situation as regards respect for human rights, minority rights and regional cooperation. Reform of the judiciary and the establishment of stable and effective institutions has been slower than expected. The economic situation has improved. However, an internal market and a common commercial policy still need to be established. Major acceleration of the reforms is now necessary under the stabilisation and association process. In Kosovo, the rule of law and democracy must be strengthened and economic reforms completed.