The European Commission today proposed to begin preparations for participation by Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro) in Community programmes and agencies from as early as 2005. The proposals are set out in a communication from the Commission intended to turn the resolutions made at the Thessaloniki European Council of June 2003 into action. The Commission Member responsible for external relations, Chris Patten, stated: "Participation in EU programmes and agencies offers citizens and authorities in the Western Balkan countries the chance to make considerable progress towards European integration."
The aim of the move is to familiarise the countries concerned and their people with the policies and working methods of the EU, thus anchoring them more firmly to the EU and encouraging them on the path to European integration (1).
The Commission proposes a progressive and selective approach, because to get the most out of participation in Community programmes the Western Balkan countries must take into account their own needs and priorities. The first step will be to conclude a framework agreement in 2004 between the Commission and each of the five Western Balkan countries participating in the Stabilisation and Association Process (2).
Participation in the work of Community agencies will be preceded by the setting up, from 2005, of cooperation programmes to familiarise the countries involved in the Stabilisation and Association Process and help them to prepare for wider participation in the work of the agencies at a later stage.
The “Thessaloniki Agenda (3) for the Western Balkans: moving towards European integration”, approved by the European Council on 20 June 2003, sent a political signal to the Western Balkan countries by inviting them to participate in Community programmes and agencies in line with the principles laid down for participation by the candidate countries for membership of the EU. It outlined a number of principles for implementing the decision to open up programmes and agencies to Western Balkan participation. The Commission was given the task of drafting specific proposals based on the experience gained from working with the candidate countries for membership.
For information on EU-Balkan relations:
(1) IP/03/721: European Commission proposes new European Integration Partnerships for the Western Balkans.
(2) IP/03/433: European Commission approves 2003 report on the Stabilisation and Association Process for South East Europe.
(3) IP/03/860: The Thessaloniki Summit : a milestone in the European Union's relations with the Western Balkans.