Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Fourth Report


COM(02) 163

Report from the Commission on the stabilisation and association process for South-East Europe. First annual report.

Legal base:
Document originated:3 April 2002
Deposited in Parliament:25 April 2002
Department:Foreign and Commonwealth
Basis of consideration:EM of 7 May 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
Discussed in Council:13 May 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


  10.1  Introducing this annual report, the Commission notes that the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) represents a long-term commitment to the Western Balkans[11]. It entails a formidable political effort, significant financial resources and a major direct input of personnel and expertise. The process combines the contractual relationships of the individual Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs), which are legally binding international agreements, and an assistance programme (CARDS).

  10.2  The Commission recalls that the European Councils at Feira and Nice explicitly recognised the vocation of the countries concerned to be "potential candidates" and spoke of "a clear prospect of accession" to the EU, once the relevant conditions had been met. The SAP was designed to help them to transform that aspiration into reality and to establish a strategic framework for their relations with the EU.

  10.3  The SAAs require respect for democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law; they foresee the establishment of a free trade area with the EU: and they set out rights and obligations in areas such as competition and state aid rules, intellectual property and establishment, which will allow the economies of the region to begin to integrate with those of the EU Member States. The Commission describes them as "ambitious, demanding agreements, which have at their core the basic principles which underpin membership of the Union".

The Commission report

  10.4  The Commission finds that all five countries are pushing ahead with political, economic and administrative reforms, but that the resurgence of violence in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM) shows the fragility of the region, and how easily parts of it can slip back into crisis:

"Critical weaknesses in the rule of law and democratic institutions, endemic corruption, the threat of resurgence of extreme forms of nationalism, as well as poverty and social exclusion, all pose a serious threat".

  10.5  It suggests that the SAP will demand many years of political and economic investment.

  10.6  As well as looking in detail at political and economic developments in the region and the strengths and weaknesses of the SAP, the report suggests the way in which the EU should take the Process forward. Five country reports on the lines of the regular progress reports on the candidate countries are summarised and annexed.

  10.7  Under the heading Progress made and lessons learned, the Commission says that the two key lessons are that the Process needs to be tailored to the needs and specific conditions of the individual countries and that a proper balance needs to be struck between stabilisation and association. It says that it is difficult to move very far along the association path unless there is a certain degree of stability - especially respect for the rule of law and functioning political and judicial institutions. It adds that the range of problems facing South East Europe is "enormous".

  10.8  Mapping out The Road Ahead, the report finds that the countries of the region need to make long-term sustained efforts and considerable investment in order to put the fundamental parts of the EU model in place. They need to enlarge progressively their understanding of the obligations of the process and what implementation of the EU system really means. A particular and determined effort is called for to entrench the rule of law.

  10.9  For its part, the EU needs to maintain its commitment to the Stabilisation and Association Process as the only rigorous, long-term and sustainable policy approach to the region.

  10.10  The Commission suggests that a new impetus is needed and it proposes to establish a new political forum - the Zagreb Process - building on the success of the November 2000 Zagreb Summit. The aim will be to bring together the political leaders of the region and their EU counterparts at ministerial level on a regular basis to discuss key issues of common concern.

  10.11  Finally, the Commission suggests that the broader international community should continually review its presence and activity in the region, with a view to disengaging from specific areas when the countries are sufficiently prepared to take on the obligations of nationhood themselves. The engagement of the EU and the countries of the SAP should facilitate this.

The Government's view

  10.12  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Denis McShane) comments that the Government strongly supports the Stabilisation and Association Process. He says that:

"It will bring the countries of South-Eastern Europe closer to the EU, offering the perspective of EU membership (once the criteria of the Copenhagen European Council and the Treaty of Amsterdam have been met and regional co-operation satisfactorily established). It therefore offers a powerful incentive for change and an important way of building peace and stability in the region. The report will act as a valuable means of encouraging reform, by highlighting progress made and areas where reform is still necessary".


  10.13  According to the Minister's written statement[12], the General Affairs Council of 13 May endorsed this report and confirmed the status of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) countries as potential candidates for EU membership. He says that the Council called on the SAP countries to devote adequate attention and resources to implementing the EU's recommendations, with particular reference to strengthening the rule of law and judicial systems and visa and entry policies. Also, he says, the Council highlighted the need for an EU public information effort to foster greater understanding of the SAP.

  10.14  Despite what the report describes as "the political volatility and institutional fragility" of the region, no reservations are expressed about continuing to regard the SAP countries as potential candidates for EU membership, though the language of the report emphasises that this must be seen as a long-term objective. The significant changes that have taken place are recognised, with every country being described as a democracy. The Process is regarded by the Commission and the Government as playing an important role, whilst the Commission stresses that a formidable political effort and long-term commitment to the region is needed. The Government does not dissent.

  10.15  We clear the document.

11  Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM). Back

12  Official Report, 20 May 2002, Col. 62W. Back

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Prepared 11 July 2002