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Brussels, 10 July 2002
Fifth Meeting of the EU-FRY Consultative Task Force - Belgrade, 9-10 July 2002
On 9 and 10 July the fifth meeting of the EU-FRY Consultative Task Force (CTF) took place in Belgrade, completing the initial expert-level examination of the political and economic reform processes. The next step after further work and agreement on the Constitutional Charter and on the Action Plans on trade and customs harmonisation and the internal market, would be a feasibility study by the European Commission in autumn 2002.
Deputy Federal Prime Minister Miroljub Labus headed the FRY delegation, with experts from the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. Experts from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo also attended. The EU delegation was co-chaired by Ambassador Ruben Madsen, representing the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and Mr. Reinhard Priebe, Director for Western Balkans at the European Commission. Representatives of EU Member States were also present.
The EU welcomed the continuing implementation of the Belgrade Agreement and ongoing work on the Constitutional Charter and the harmonisation of economic systems, and urged that state restructuring, from the outset, be done in such a way as to facilitate closer relations with the EU. The EU recalled that the implementation of the Belgrade Agreement and the Stabilisation and Association Process were fully congruent and indeed mutually reinforcing.
In implementation of the Belgrade Agreement, the EU reiterated its message that the same EU-compatible reforms should be put in place throughout the state as well as the wider region and that certain competences, for EU and other purposes, should be retained at state level.
"The process ahead demands hard work of all parties involved. On your side, efforts must continue to implement necessary political and economic reforms. On our side, we are ready to continue our support.", said Ambassador Madsen, representing the Danish EU Presidency.
The EU also reiterated its position, discussed in detail at previous meetings, that the process of European integration and the process of association to the EU require a common economic space within the state. Drawing from its own experience of the benefits of decades of integration and harmonisation and its knowledge of the requirements for association with the EU, the Commission recommended strongly against maintaining or creating obstacles which would prevent an internal market or free trade within the state. Such differences would also be an obstacle to Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, in particular its trade related obligations, or to WTO accession.
Regarding the general process of reform and closer association to the EU, the EU, based on its experience with transition processes elsewhere in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe, emphasised that adoption of reform legislation or commitments must be followed by implementation. It stressed that sustainable reform requires the putting in place, at an early stage, of the appropriate administrative and coordination competences and capacity, also necessary for the negotiation or implementation of a future Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU.
The technical discussions among experts attending the fifth CTF meeting covered
Progress in implementing the political and economic conditionality of the EU's Stabilisation and Association process (SAp) i.e. fundamental principles of democracy, rule of law, human and minority rights, market economy reforms, regional cooperation and compliance with international obligations
General economic developments and reforms
Implementation of the sectoral recommendations made by the four previous CTF meetings
Coordination and implementation mechanisms within the state, necessary for effective negotiation and implementation of a future Stabilisation and Association Agreement
There was also detailed discussion of the sectors covered for the first time at this meeting, i.e. agriculture, veterinary and phytosanitary rules, fisheries, environment, consumer protection, education, training and youth, audiovisual and culture and research and development policies.
Precise sectoral recommendations will be issued following the meeting. Their implementation and that of the recommendations given during earlier meetings will continue to be assessed by the European Commission, together with developments towards the restructuring of the state.
The next stage after this meeting would be the preparation by the European Commission of a report on the feasibility of opening negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the state (a "Feasibility Study"). This will be prepared during autumn, provided that the Constitutional Charter and the Action Plans are agreed. The Feasibility Report will, in a more detailed manner than the annual SAP Report(1), examine the degree of implementation of the necessary political, economic and sectoral reforms, including those areas where harmonisation is required to achieve an internal market, as well as the administrative capacity of the state to negotiate and implement the reciprocal obligations contained in a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
"As Commissioner Patten said last week, to write a Feasibility Study, we must have something to study", explained Mr. Priebe. "The Constitutional Charter and the Action Plans on Trade and Customs Harmonisation and the Internal Market are necessary prerequisites".
The Consultative Task Force is a technical working group, co-chaired by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is part of the Stabilisation and Association process, the EU's framework for relations with the countries of the Western Balkans. The objective of the process is the stabilisation of the region through political and economic reforms in the five countries which are "potential candidates" to the European Union.
During Consultative Task Force meetings, experts from throughout the FRY and from the European Commission engage in detailed discussion of various sectors, identifying the state of play and deciding together how best to begin to put in place EU-compatible reforms. Discussion was on the basis of replies, by Ministries, to expert technical questionnaires in each area. The coordination process within the FRY - under the lead of the state-level federal European Integration Office - continues between and after meetings.
The Consultative Task Force is an important instrument in both implementing and assessing the reform process, with a view to deciding when sufficient reforms have been implemented and progress made to enable the European Commission to propose the opening of negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Previous meetings were held, in Belgrade, in July and November 2001, February and May 2002. Time between the meetings was to permit implementation of the detailed sectoral recommendations and preparation of new sectors for discussion.
(1) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - Stabilisation and Association Report [SEC (2002)343 of 4 April 2002] - http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/see/sap/com02_343.htm