Regional co-operation is an essential element of stabilisation and association – the process guiding the Western Balkan countries towards EU membership. It helps the region to address shared challenges such as energy shortages, pollution, transport infrastructure, cross-border criminal activities, etc.
Progress in regional cooperation is monitored in annual progress reports:
Financial support (some €430m in 2007-10) is provided through the multi-beneficiary programme of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).
Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)
The Regional Cooperation Council is a regionally owned and led framework for cooperation in South East Europe, with a Secretariat based in Sarajevo and a Liaison Office in Brussels. The EU is a member of the RCC, and is represented in its meetings by a representative of the European Commission and a representative of the European External Action Service. The EU has been providing financial support to the RCC secretariat since it was set up.
The RCC is the operational arm of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) - a forum for diplomatic and political dialogue set up in the aftermath of the wars in the former Yugoslavia (1996).
The SEECP members are EU Member States Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Slovenia as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Moldova. It has a rotating Chairmanship-in-Office, currently held by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Other regional initiatives:
The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA 2006) is helping prepare the economies of the Western Balkans for the competitive pressures of the EU single market. The process of mutual trade liberalisation is intensifying competition and stimulating national reforms to increase competitiveness.
The Regional School of Public Administration (ReSPA) is an international organisation working to improve public administration in the Western Balkans. It was originally envisaged in the . The international agreement setting up the school (located in Danilovgrad, Montenegro) was signed in 2008, and the school was opened officially by Commissioner Füle and Montenegrin Prime Minister Djukanović in November 2010.
ReSPA's principal aims are to:
- help improve regional cooperation in public administration
- strengthen administrative capacities as required by the European integration process
- develop human resources in line with the principles of the European Administrative Space
- organise activities relating to the exchange of good practices.
The Regional Network for Accession (RENA) is the cooperation framework for the Western Balkans and Turkey in the field of environment and climate change. RENA makes possible cooperation at political level (ministerial meetings) and expert/technical level. 4 working groups focus respectively on strategic planning and investments; climate change; cross border cooperation; and environmental compliance and enforcement.
Officially launched in 2009, the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) is a joint initiative of the Commission, Council of Europe Development Bank, EBRD and EIB. It is an innovative financing initiative, bringing together grants and loans from the Commission, the partner international financial institutions and bilateral donors for infrastructure projects and socio-economic development in the Western Balkans. In 2011, the WBIF allocated €220 mio in project grants.
The Energy Community Treaty (2006) was set up to establish:
- an integrated energy market promoting energy trade in the Western Balkans
- integration with the EU market
- improved security of supply.
The Energy Community applies the core EU energy laws and focuses on market liberalisation, environment, energy efficiency, capacity building and social dialogue. It is managed by institutions mirroring those of the EU.
The future Transport Community Treaty, modelled on the Energy Community, will replace the South East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO). SEETO was established in 2004 to:
- promote cooperation on development of the main and ancillary infrastructure on the SEE Core Regional Transport Network
- enhance local capacity to implement investment programmes & to collect, manage and analyse data on the Core Regional Transport Network.
Air travel: the European Common Aviation Area agreement (2006) brings together partners from the EU and south-eastern and northern Europe.
Justice and Home Affairs
Here the objectives are to strengthen regional cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities in the fight against organised crime and corruption through:
- mutual legal assistance
- transfer of proceedings
- requests for extradition
- joint investigation teams
- witness protection programmes.
Current projects include:
- police cooperation: Fight against organised crime, in particular illicit drug trafficking, and terrorism prevention (DET ILECU II)
- criminal justice cooperation: Witness Protection in the Fight against Serious Crime and Terrorism (WINPRO)
- fight against organised crime and corruption: Strengthening Prosecutors.
Education – Erasmus Mundus
The Erasmus Mundus programme – implemented by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) – promotes the exchange of academic staff and students at all levels.
- higher education institutions and related associations, organisations and networks
- rector, teacher & student organisations
- ministries & governmental organisations
- other higher-education bodies.
In 2010, €12.8 mio was allocated to the two actions implemented under the Erasmus Mundus Programme.
EU projects in regional cooperation
Through the IPA Multibeneficiary Programme, the EU finances a number of projects in all the areas mentioned above.