Brussels, 13 June 2007
Frequently asked questions on the
Stabilisation and Association Agreements
Why do we need a Stabilisation and Association Agreement?
- The European integration of the Western Balkan countries is the ultimate
goal of the EU’s policy for the region – the Stabilisation and
Association process (SAP).
- The centrepiece of the SAP is the conclusion of a Stabilisation and
Association Agreement (SAA) that represents a far-reaching contractual
relationship between the EU and each Western Balkan country, entailing mutual
rights and obligations.
- A SAA embodies the choice for Europe made by the Western Balkan countries
and the membership perspective offered to them by the EU.
- A SAA is a binding Treaty acting as a catalyst for change. The full
implementation of the provisions of a SAA represents for a specific Western
Balkan country, an essential step towards integration into the EU. A SAA is an
instrument that will accompany the countries of the region all their way to EU
accession - as decided at the Thessaloniki Summit, no intermediate contractual
phases exist between the SAA and EU accession.
What does a
Stabilisation and Association Agreement stand for?
- The SAA provides for the creation of a free trade area between a specific
country and the EU for industrial products and most agricultural products. In
the beginning, the trade provisions of a SAA are asymmetrically in favour of the
signatory Western Balkan country. This means essentially that the EU grants the
specific country unlimited duty free access to the market of the enlarged Union
for virtually all products. On the side of the specific Western Balkan country,
tariffs for some industrial and agricultural products are abolished immediately,
while others are phased out over a number of years. While tariffs for
agricultural products are reduced, quotas may remain for a number of sensitive
- The SAA sets the formal framework for the countries of the Western Balkans
to gradually align their legal and economic frameworks with those of the EU and
to co-operate closely with the EU on a number of sectors at the heart of the
- The SAA provides agreed priorities which allow the EU to work with each
country of the region to bring them closer to the standards which apply in the
EU. The SAA focuses on respect for key democratic principles and core elements
of the EU single market. The commitment by a specific Western Balkan country to
increasing political and economic freedoms is the very basis of a SAA. By
extending core elements of the EU’s single market, the SAA provides a
training ground for future EU membership.
- The SAA encourages the active development of regional co-operation by a
specific Western Balkan country, with the support of the EU.
- The SAA intensifies the relations between the EU and a specific Western
Balkan country, resulting in mutual learning and better understanding.
- The SAA structures the relationship between the EU and a specific Western
Balkan country, establishing close co-operation in a wide range of policy areas
(including in the area of justice and home affairs), based on reciprocity and to
the benefit of both parties.
- The EU commits itself to providing decisive support for the implementation
of reforms, and to using all available instruments of co-operation and
technical, financial and economic assistance to this endeavour.
What are the main areas covered by a Stabilisation and
- The SAAs are modelled on the Europe Agreements with the Central and Eastern
European countries, while containing also specificities such as the obligation
for regional co-operation and provisions on Justice and Home Affairs matters.
- Each SAA covers the implementation of the same core tasks, while some
aspects can be tailored individually to each Western Balkan country.
- Especially important areas covered by a SAA are:
- the establishment of political dialogue;
- the promotion of regional co-operation;
- the establishment of a free trade area between the specific country and the
- mutual concessions concerning the “four freedoms”: movement of
workers, establishment, supply of services, and movement of capital;
- the approximation of the legislation of a specific country to Community law,
including precise rules in the fields of competition, intellectual property
rights and public procurement;
- wide-ranging co-operation in all areas of EU policies, including in the area
of justice and home affairs.
What are the main aims of a
Stabilisation and Association Agreement?
- To provide an institutionalised framework for the development of political
dialogue. Political dialogue between the EU and the Western Balkan countries is
already held and has been particularly promoted by the Thessaloniki agenda. The
SAA framework will contribute to the development of political relations between
the EU and the countries of the region. It will promote an increasing
convergence of views on security and stability in Europe, and will contribute to
harmonising positions regarding international issues. The political dialogue
with the EU will also promote the countries’ full integration into the
community of democratic nations. The EU is committed to support the Western
Balkan countries in their efforts to develop both their economic and
- To support the efforts of the Western Balkan countries to complete their
transition into well functioning market economies. This is done partially by
encouraging the countries to gradually harmonise their legislation to that of
the European Community, in particular in core areas of the EU’s single
market. The Western Balkan countries already benefit from the Autonomous Trade
Measures (ATMs), unilateral and exceptional trade concessions offered by the EU.
While the ATMs are unilateral measures by the EU that can be revoked, the SAAs
turn trade relation with the EU into a contractual one, requesting a measured
opening of Western Balkan markets while bringing legal stability. The aim is to
step by step develop a free trade area between the EU and the Western Balkan
countries. This will promote the development of trade and investment, factors
that are crucial to economic restructuring and modernisation. In December 2006,
a new Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) was signed by all the
countries of the region. The Agreement creates a regional free area and a
simplified single system of rules that make it easier to trade within the
region. The SAAs and CEFTA establish a comprehensive legal framework for trade
liberalisation that will increase the attractiveness of the various countries
for much needed foreign investment, as it happened successfully in the past with
Central European countries that eventually joined the EU.
- To promote regional co-operation and good neighbourly relations. Once a SAA
is in place, the country has to work to achieve closer co-operation with
neighbouring countries. Regional co-operation is encouraged in all fields.
What is the state of play and the way ahead?
- Pending the ratification of a SAA (necessary for the entry into force of
it), certain parts of the Agreement, in particular the provisions relating to
the free movement of goods and the transport-related provisions, are put into
effect/ enter into force through an Interim Agreement.
- Stabilisation and Association Agreements are in place with the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1 April 2004) and Croatia (1 February 2005).
When a SAA enters into force, a new set of joint bodies is established: at
ministerial level (Stabilisation and Association Council), at high officials
level (Stabilisation and Association Committee) and at technical level
- The SAA with Albania was signed in June 2006. An Interim Agreement allowed
its trade provisions to enter into force in December 2006 pending ratification
of the SAA itself. SAA negotiations with Albania started in 2003 and took more
than three years. Before concluding an agreement, the EU needs to be confident
that the country concerned has the institutions and capacity in place to
- Technical talks for a SAA with Bosnia and Herzegovina have been finalised.
However, the formal conclusion of the negotiations - through the initialing of
the Agreement - remains dependent on sufficient progress by BiH in addressing
key priorities. For signing the SAA, BiH will need to adopt a credible police
reform package, to achieve full cooperation with the ICTY and to make further
progress in the areas of public broadcasting and public administration.
- The SAA with Montenegro was initialled in March 2007 and its signature is
foreseen for this autumn. Pending the ratification of the SAA, an Interim
agreement is expected to enter into force in January 2008.
- Negotiations for a SAA with Serbia were launched in October 2005 but, due to
lack of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague
(ICTY), they have been put on hold in May 2006. Following a clear commitment by
the country to achieve full cooperation with the ICTY, and concrete actions
undertaken by the country that have matched this commitment, SAA negotiations
with Serbia resumed on 13 June 2007. As Kosovo is currently governed in
accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council resolution 1244, the
current SAA negotiation will not affect Kosovo. An SAA can only be concluded
with States, an SAA could not be negotiated with Kosovo, given its current
- It is in the interest of the Western Balkan countries to fully implement the
SAAs, irrespective of their individual status on the road to European
membership. The SAAs will accompany the Western Balkan countries until they join
the Union. It is important therefore, that the countries do not become
complacent once they advance to a stage when they are accepted as candidate
countries and begin membership negotiations; the SAAs must be respected and
fully implemented and will be an important tool in preparing for membership. The
EU will monitor and follow the implementation of the SAAs up through a number of
mechanisms of the Stabilisation and Association Process, including the European
Partnerships and Annual Progress Reports.
What are the main
benefits for the citizens of the Western Balkan countries?
- Enhanced political stability and security due to good neighbourly relations,
regional co-operation, and deeper integration into the EU.
- Economic development through enhanced trade and economic co-operation and
the creation of a business environment providing for investments, encouraging
individual entrepreneurial initiatives and generating employment.
- Progress in the process of political and economic reforms, including in the
areas of institution building, public administration reform, respect of human
rights and the rule of law, which are necessary to improve significantly the
quality of life for all the citizens of the Western Balkan countries.