The Stabilization and Association Process: An Engine of European Integration in Need of Tuning

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Abstract

The Stabilization and Association process (SAp) was created by the European Union in 1999 as its primary contribution to the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, thus concluding a development that had started with the Royaumont process and continued with the Regional Approach, neither of which are discussed in this article. The purpose of this article is to look closer at the approach adopted in this process, at the effects it has had in the five countries of the Western Balkans, and, finally, to answer the question of whether the Sap is a strong enough instrument for ensuring political and economic stability in the region, with a closer examination of the situation of ethnic minorities.

INTRODUCTION

The rationale for the creation of this process was the recognition that the countries in the region referred to as the 'Western Balkans' (the former Yugoslavia plus Albania) needed a solid and realistic perspective in order to be motivated to carry out the vast number of reforms that the EU expected of them. This could only be the possible and conditional accession to the Union. Each of the countries in to the SAp1 has the ultimate and expressed goal of joining the European Union. This goal has been acknowledged subsequently by several European Councils.2

The list of required reforms contained many elements of what is called 'state building', including rule of law reforms, the development of democratic and stable institutions, and moves towards market economy. EU instruments at their disposal for the achievement of these reforms included assistance programmes for post-conflict rehabilitation and stabilization, technical assistance programmes and programmes aiming at harmonizing legislation with the EU's acquis communautaire. Another need identified by the European Union was the strengthening of bilateral relations between the countries of the region, in the belief that this would pave the way for greater political and economic stability and development. The third issue identified was the need of flexibility in the approach of the EU, in order to accommodate the specific needs of each country.

Thus, the very idea of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe was to be backed by an EU programme, which, at the same time, would establish the European Union as the driving force behind the process of regional integration and reform.

The process was envisaged as consisting of three phases: a preparatory phase would set the path of initially-needed reforms and prepare each country individually for the signing of the agreement; the second phase would be the actual negotiation of the agreement and its adoption; the third phase would see the implementation of the agreement by the respective countries, after which they would become fully associated with the European Union, being given the option of 'potential candidate' status.

The main financial instrument introduced to the region was the so-called Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilization (CARDS) programme, which allocated a sum of roughly euro4.6 billion for the entire region from 2002-2006. The regional dimension was been built into this programme, in order to underline one of the main goals of both the SAp and the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe: strong and genuine regional co-operation between the countries of the Western Balkans and the establishment of a common regional market.

The CARDS programme worked on the basis of a Regional Strategy Paper covering the period 2002-2006 and was complemented by a so-called Multi-annual Indicative Programme, of which the current version covers the period of 2005-2006. Its priority areas have been identified as: institution building, justice and home affairs, cross-border co-operation, private sector development and, finally, infrastructure development.

The EU summit in Zagreb in November 2000 gave the official stamp to this new policy and at the same time, initialled the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the Republic of Macedonia. …