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Stabilisation and Association Process – SAP

The Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) is the European Union's policy towards the Western Balkans, established with the aim of eventual EU membership. Western Balkan countries are involved in a progressive partnership with a view of stabilising the region and establishing a free-trade area. The SAP sets out common political and economic goals although progress evaluation is based on countries' own merits. The SAP was launched in June 1999 and strengthened at the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003 taking over elements of the accession process. It rests on:

• Contractual relationships (bilateral Stabilisation and Association agreements);
• Trade relations (autonomous trade measures);
• Financial assistance (the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance – IPA);
• Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.

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Stabilisation and Association Process history

During the 1990s, the European Union has sought for an appropriate long-term foreign policy strategy for developing political, economic, and institutional relations with South-Eastern European countries.

In May 1999, the European Commission proposed the adoption of a long-term foreign policy for the countries of the region that at the time had not been involved in another mechanism of institutional relations with the EU (the Republic of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), under the title The Stabilisation and Association Process for South-Eastern Europe (SAP), which amends, i.e. deepens and broadens the previous policy towards this part of Europe. The new policy, as the pinnacle in moving closer to the European Union, envisages the conclusion of stabilisation and association agreements, by way of which the countries gain the status of associate EU members, the status identical to that the previous candidates for membership received when their accession agreements had entered into force. In addition to the possibility of moving towards EU membership, this contract with the EU has as its objective to stabilise the South-Eastern European countries by ways of:

  1. Admitting them to the European Union;
  2. Developing economic and trade relations with the region and within the region;
  3. Increasing aid for democratisation, civil society development, education and the development of institutions;
  4. Finding opportunities for cooperation in various field, including justice and home affairs;
  5. Developing political dialogue, including at the regional level.

Given the large differences from one country to another, the SAAs, in addition to the identical basic structure, are envisaged to be tailored according to the specific political, economic, and other circumstances in each country.

The European Council meeting in Cologne on 3-4 June 1999 confirmed the EU's readiness to encourage South-Eastern European countries' full integration in the EU on the basis of the Treaty on the European Union and meeting the criteria set out at the European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993 and the European Council in Madrid in 1995. The European Council meeting in Santa Maria de Feira on 19-20 June 2000 went a step further by concluding that all countries involved in the SAP are potential membership candidates, as well as that it is the EU's objective to ensure as full as possible an integration of South-Eastern European countries into the Europe's political and economic core.

The Zagreb Summit meeting held on 24 November 2000, which gathered heads of state and government of EU member-States and SAP States, it was jointly confirmed that the SAP is the road leading to EU membership.

The European Council adopted "The Thessaloniki agenda for the Western Balkans: Moving towards European Integration" (The Thessaloniki Agenda) on 21 June 2003, which envisages the introduction of a whole set of new instruments and cooperation frameworks between the EU and SAP countries, based on instruments and experiences from the EU enlargement process.

From the outset, the Stabilisation and Association Process was intended to be an instrument that would enable the region's countries to build and maintain stable democratic institutions, ensure the rule of law, and create sustainable, open, and progressive economies. The SAP is both a bilateral and regional process, which creates links between each individual country and the EU and sparks regional cooperation among SAP countries and their cooperation with neighbours. A special role in the process is reserved for the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, an assistant and complementary mechanism of regional stability. This is viewed especially in the heightened contacts and regular consultations between the European Council, the Stability Pact, and the region's countries. The SAP has flexible instruments, which are adaptable to the needs and particularities of each of the countries, in order to ensure the pace of progress in line with capabilities of each of the countries.

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SAP’s main features

Equal conditions for all – All SAP countries must meet the same conditions if they want to approach the EU, and these are stable democratic institutions, the rule of law, respect and protection of human rights, respect and protection of minority rights, regional co-operation and building market economy. In addition, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro must fulfil the commitments received through the Dayton and Erdut Agreements, and the decisions of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC).

Clear perspective of the EU membership – In the Thessaloniki summit's final act, it was clearly noted that the Western Balkans countries have a clear perspective of EU membership, and it underlined their intensive cooperation with the EU with the view to bringing them closer to the EU accession process. A multilateral forum was established, and European partnerships were introduced (as documents that identify areas in which each individual country must invest additional efforts and make reforms). The Thessaloniki Agenda opened up the possibility for EU's cooperation with the SAP countries in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy, and SAP countries have since been invited to join the EU's common positions within the CFDP framework.

Through the Stabilisation and Association Process, the EU encourages the countries in the region as potential candidate countries to continue strengthening their relations in every field possible – from trade and investment, to infrastructure and return of refugees, to battle against organised crime.

Individual approach – The speed at which different countries go through various stages of the SAP depends on their ability to take on and fulfil the commitments that arise from the association with the EU. Each country approaches the EU based on its own success in meeting these commitments. If one country fails to meet these conditions, it will not affect other countries.

Importance of regional co-operation – Regional co-operation is the most important aspect of the SAP. EU documents state that regional co-operation is not intended to create a unique territory in the Balkans, but to encourage development of work methods and practices that are integral to the EU membership. The Stabilisation and Association Process forms strong bonds between the SAP countries and the EU and encourages co-operation between these countries, as well as their co-operation with the neighbours.

The EU closely monitors and analyses the Stabilisation and Association Process in order to objectively evaluate its effects and give advice to the SAP countries on how to meet the conditions and criteria of the EU.

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Thessaloniki Agenda

By adopting the Declaration, all of the countries also adopted the document entitled The Thessaloniki agenda for the Western Balkans: Moving towards European Integration, and committed to its implementation. This programme foresees the introduction of a whole series of new instruments and forms of co-operation between the EU and the SAP countries based on instruments and experiences from the enlargement process. At the same time, it makes some SAP instruments so far reserved only for the more developed countries available to all.

European Partnership – In the medium term, this is the most important new instrument. It is based on Accession Partnership experiences with the candidate countries. This is a document that determines for each country its short- and medium-term goals and priorities. A country's success depends on the time it took for these goals to be achieved. Partnership's priorities are determined according to the European Commission's Annual Reports on the SAP, as well as informal consultations with the SAP countries, taking into account the Copenhagen and Madrid criteria and the SAP specific criteria. Based on recommendations from the Partnership, the SAP countries are expected to draw up action plans that will be implemented within set deadlines.

Cooperation in Common Foreign and Security Policy – The SAP countries will be invited to accede through statements, joint positions and other decisions within the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Inviting the SAP countries to co-ordination and briefing meetings, organised for the acceding and candidate countries in major European cities and seat of international organisations, will also be taken into consideration, as well as the meetings of the Political and Security Committee is the subject concerns security and crisis solving in the region.

Parliamentary Co-operation – Joint Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committees could be established with all SAP countries, even before conclusion or entry into force of the respective Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs). To this end, appropriate arrangements could be agreed with the SAP countries. The European Affairs Committees of the Parliaments of the SAP countries will be encouraged to establish contacts with the Parliaments of Member States, as well as contacts on regional level (for instance, within the framework of the Regional Conference of European Affairs Committees).

Institutional Building Support – The instrument of twinning (cooperation of state employees in the member countries with similar institutions in the EU countries) will be extended to all SAP countries, taking into account their specific situations. Twinning will be financed under the CARDS program. The SAP countries will become eligible for technical assistance by TAIEX including for monitoring the compatibility of national legislations of the SAP countries with the community acquis. Particular attention should be given to the provision of expertise from the new member states. For the purposes of improving the abilities of civil servants in the SAP countries, regional school or institute should be founded for higher education in the field of public administration reform. The level of co-operation will depend on the ability of each individual state.

Opening Community Programs – Community programmes will be opened in SAP countries (for instance, in the field of education, training, culture, research, energy, environment, and civil society), at a given time and depending on the needs and capabilities of each country.
CARDS Budget Increase – CARDS Budget Increase for the 2004-2006 period has been approved and equals a minimum of EUR200 million. The EU will also consider the further mobilisation of European Investment Bank resources, further adaptation of Community's support to the SAP countries on their road to the EU, and invited the Commission to consider supporting the SAP in achieving sustainable development, within the framework of the discussions on the following financial perspective (2007-2013), and based on the experiences with the current enlargement process.

CARDS Budget Increase – CARDS Budget Increase for the 2004-2006 period has been approved and equals a minimum of EUR200 million. The EU will also consider the further mobilisation of European Investment Bank resources, further adaptation of Community's support to the SAP countries on their road to the EU, and invited the Commission to consider supporting the SAP in achieving sustainable development, within the framework of the discussions on the following financial perspective (2007-2013), and based on the experiences with the current enlargement process.

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