A key external relations priority for the EU is to promote stability and peace in the Western Balkans, not only on humanitarian grounds but also because the region’s past conflicts were at odds with the wider objective of security and prosperity across the continent of Europe.

Since 1991 until now, the European Union committed, through various assistance programmes, € 6.8 billion to the Western Balkans. In 2000, aid to the region was streamlined through a new programme called CARDS (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation) adopted with the Council Regulation (EC) No 2666/2000 of 5 December 2000. The programme’s wider objective was to support the participation of the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) in the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP)

The Stabilisation and Association Process is the cornerstone of the European Union’s policy towards the region. It seeks to promote stability within the region whilst also facilitating closer association with the European Union. A key element of the SAP, for countries that have made sufficient progress in terms of political and economic reform and administrative capacity, is a formal contractual relationship with EU in the form of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The SAP is designed to help each country to progress at its own pace towards greater European integration. See the page ‘Stabilisation and Association process’  for more details.

Through the CARDS programme € 4.6 billion was provided to this region in the period 2000 to 2006 for investment, institution-building, and other measures to achieve four main objectives:

  • reconstruction, democratic stabilisation, reconciliation and the return of refugees
  • institutional and legislative development, including harmonisation with European Union norms and approaches, to underpin democracy and the rule of law, human rights, civil society and the media, and the operation of a free market economy
  • sustainable economic and social development, including structural reform
  • promotion of closer relations and regional cooperation among countries and between them, the EU and the candidate countries of central Europe.

Since early 2005 the Directorate-General Enlargement has been responsible for managing all relations with the countries of the Western Balkans. This includes political relations and the development and management of the CARDS programme.