Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by the UK Representation to the EU


  1.  At the request of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the UK Representation to the EU submits the following memorandum providing an overview of the EU's policy towards the region. It is intended to complement the material contained in the FCO's memorandum to the Committee.

  2.  The EU's engagement with the Western Balkans has deepened significantly in recent years. The EU is now perceived as the leading international player in the Western Balkans in political, trade and financial terms. It is also playing an increasing role in the region's security. The EU's overall aim is to spread peace, stability and prosperity to the region, making unthinkable a return to the military conflicts that characterised the 1990s.

  3.  The EU—Western Balkans Summit at Thessaloniki in June 2003 reconfirmed that the countries of the Western Balkans are potential candidates for eventual EU membership. It strengthened the EU's political dialogue and cooperation with the region, and extended to the Western Balkans in a number of practical ways the "toolbox" of instruments that the EU used successfully to prepare for its most recent enlargement. But the Summit also stressed that the speed of the Western Balkans' integration into the EU depends ultimately on the countries' own success in meeting the Copenhagen criteria and the specific requirements of the EU's Stabilisation & Association (SA) process for the region.

  4.  The EU's relationship with the countries of the region is governed by the SA process, which aims to encourage vital reforms as well as regional cooperation and development. SA Agreements (SAAs) are a key element of this process. An SAA is the formal contractual framework governing the EU's political and economic cooperation with a country of the Western Balkans, lasting right up until its eventual accession.

  5.  So far, Croatia and Macedonia have concluded SAAs, and both have since formally applied to join the EU. Croatia was accorded candidate country status in June 2004, while the Commission's opinion on Macedonia's application is expected sometime in 2005. Albania is in the process of negotiating its SAA. The opening of SAA negotiations with Bosnia and Serbia & Montenegro depends on their progress in implementing basic reforms and meeting key conditionalities.

  6.  The Commission publishes every year SA reports on the progress of each of the countries of the region. The last set was published in March 2004 and was accompanied for the first time by forward-looking European Partnerships to help each country to identify and prioritise the key reforms necessary for EU integration. These Partnerships will be updated annually.

  7.  The EU's financial assistance to the region is currently running at around 600 million euro a year. (This figure does not include the cost of the EU's military and civilian operations in the region.) A large proportion of this funding takes the form of grants devoted to project-related technical assistance for strengthening key public institutions, promoting economic reform and meeting basic EU norms. The EU also helps meet the running costs of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and the economic development pillar of the UN administration in Kosovo. Although the profile of EU assistance is now on a slightly declining trend, this reflects the deliberate front-loading of aid over the period 2000-2006 in response to the Kosovo crisis. The Western Balkans nonetheless enjoy one of the highest levels of EU assistance per capita of any region in the world.

  8.  The EU is by far the most important export market for the Western Balkans. The vast majority of products from the region now enjoy exceptional duty-free and unlimited access to EU markets. These arrangements are asymmetric (in the sense that EU products do not necessarily enjoy the same access to Western Balkan markets) and are even more generous than those that were enjoyed by the then candidate countries of central and eastern Europe. A priority for the future is to create a genuine free trade area within the region itself.

  9.  In November 2004, responsibility for the Western Balkans will transfer from the Commission's Directorate-General for External Relations to its Directorate-General for Enlargement. The Commission has also proposed that from 2007 its existing financial instruments for candidate and potential candidate countries should be replaced by a unified pre-accession instrument. Both developments send a further signal of the region's ultimate EU perspective and should allow the lessons of the latest enlargement to be applied more systematically to the Western Balkans.

  10.  The EU has supplemented its traditional instruments of advice, financial assistance and trade concessions with the deployment of a range of second pillar (CFSP and ESDP) instruments in the Western Balkans.

  11.  EU Foreign Ministers regularly discuss and adopt formal Conclusions on the Western Balkans at the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. From time to time, the EU issues other public declarations and makes collective demarches in the region, such as on Albania in September 2004 for example.

  12.  High Representative Javier Solana has intervened personally at numerous decisive moments when events have threatened to destabilise the region. The EU's resident special representatives in Bosnia (who is also High Representative in Bosnia under the Dayton Peace Agreement) and Macedonia have played a prominent role in promoting reform and ensuring stability.

  13.  The EU runs ESDP police assistance missions in Bosnia and Macedonia that seek to establish sustainable policing arrangements under local ownership in accordance with best European and international practice.

  14.  The nine-month ESDP military operation in Macedonia in 2003 was the first of its kind. It followed a NATO operation and contributed to ensuring stable and secure environment for implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement. The EU is currently preparing its most ambitious ESDP operation to date, to follow on from NATO's SFOR mission in Bosnia. The aim is to deploy by the end of this year a robust force, starting at the same force levels as SFOR, to ensure continued compliance with the Dayton Agreement and contribute to a safe and secure environment in Bosnia. The operation will be part of a coherent overall approach that adds significantly to the EU's political engagement, assistance programmes and ongoing police and monitoring missions, with a view to helping Bosnia make further progress towards European integration in the context of the SA process.

  15.  Although the EU plays an essentially supporting role to the United Nations and NATO in Kosovo, it recently strengthened its presence in Pristina. Both Javier Solana and the European Commission now have resident representatives there. EU member states provide the lion's share of NATO troops in Kosovo.

  16.  The EU has supported the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) by adopting an asset freeze on fugitive indictees and a travel ban on individuals supporting these indictees. The EU has also helped underpin the Ohrid Framework Agreement in Macedonia by adopting a travel ban on extremists opposed to its implementation.

  17.  The UK has played a full part in shaping EU policy towards the region. We initiated the concept of European Partnerships and helped place the problem of organised crime firmly on the EU agenda. We are playing a leading role in the design and planning of the new ESDP operation in Bosnia and ensuring its full and transparent cooperation with NATO. We will provide the mission's first Force Commander. We have ensured that the EU continues to insist that the countries of the region cooperate fully with the ICTY. More generally, we have underlined the importance of maintaining a continued broad coalition of international community support for policy in the Western Balkans, even though the EU is in practice taking an increasingly leading operational role.

UK Representation to the EU

October 2004

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