The EU’s policy towards the countries of the Western Balkans is defined within the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) launched in May 1999 by the European Commission. At the Zagreb Summit in November 2000, EU Member States and countries of the Western Balkans confirmed their commitment to the SAP.
Responding to the future prospect of EU accession, and the EU’s assistance to achieve it, BiH has undertaken to meet the agreed political and economic requirements. These requirements, known as the Copenhagen Criteria, were agreed by the Council of the European Union in Copenhagen in 1993. They include:
• Political criteria: stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for /protection of minorities;
• Economic criteria: a functioning market economy able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the EU;
• The capacity to take on the obligations of EU membership, including adherence to the objectives of political, economic and monetary union.
Essentially, the SAP has served as the framework for EU negotiations with all countries of the Western Balkans. The SAP has three main aims:
• Stabilising the countries and encouraging their swift transition to a market economy;
• Promoting regional co-operation;
• Preparing countries for EU membership.
Closer co-operation is strongly encouraged between the countries in the region, in particular through the conclusion of free trade agreements and stronger cooperation in the all the areas covered by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), notably those of common interest.
The SAP is a progressive partnership, in which the EU offers a country a mixture of trade concessions, economic and financial assistance and contractual relationships.
Stabilisation and Association Agreements
The progress achieved in the SAP leads to the establishment of a contractual relationship between a country and the EU known as the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). The SAA is a tool that provides the formal mechanisms and timelines of reforms that will bring BiH closer to EU standards.
Since the signing of the SAA, BiH institutions have been obliged to ensure that its existing laws and future legislation are gradually made compatible with the EU law. BiH institutions are also obliged to ensure that all existing and future legislation is fully implemented.
The following EU-BiH bodies are established to ensure proper implementation of the SAA:
– Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee – a forum of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH and European Parliament;
– Stabilisation and Association Council – comprising members of the Council of the EU and members of the European Commission as well as representatives of the Council of Ministers of BiH, responsible for supervision of the implementation of the SAA;
– Stabilisation and Association Committee – a technical level body assisting S&A Council in performance of its duties.
– The Stabilisation and Association Committee may establish sub-committees to ensure adequate implementation of obligations.
In the early stages of the SAA’s implementation, the legal approximation needs to focus on fundamental elements of the Internal Market acquis as well as on other trade related issues. The legal approximation process has to be carried out on the basis of a programme that needs to be agreed between the European Commission and BiH. This key document clearly defines the responsibilities and obligations of each level of government in relation to this process.
The development of such a programme in BiH remains pending.
The main elements of the SAA focus on the ‘four freedoms’ and measures to implement and enforce the EU standards and norms in all areas:
• Promoting integration of BiH into the community of democratic nations;
• Respect for principles of international law and rule of law;
• Respect for democratic principles, human rights and freedom of media;
• Developing a market economy;
• Fostering regional cooperation;
• Promoting the free movement of goods;
• Boosting economic growth and competitiveness;
• Creating efficient institutions; Reducing crime and corruption;
• Improving the quality of life of citizens;
• Promoting better education and creation of jobs;
• Improving the region’s energy and transport infrastructure.
The mechanisms of the SAA prioritize the reforms, shape them according to EU’s best practice, help resolve problems, and monitor their overall implementation.
The full and effective implementation of the SAA is a prerequisite for any further assessment by the EU of the country’s accession prospects.
The latest ‘state of play’
Following the endorsement of the Written Commitment by Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, and in line with the Council conclusions of 15 December 2014, the necessary conditions were met for the SAA to enter into force on 1 June 2015. The SAA replaced the Interim Agreement on trade and trade related matters, which had been in force since 1 July 2008.
The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina are expected to start implementation of the Reform Agenda agreed in 2015. On 15 February 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its application for EU membership.