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Main steps towards the EU
Following the referendum on independence organised on 21 May 2006 in Montenegro (in which 55.5% of voters expressed their support for independence whereas the turnout reached 86.5% of those eligible to vote), on 5 June Serbian Parliament, acting in accordance with Article 60 of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro confirmed the continuity of Serbia as a legal successor of the State Union and informed thereof the EU and other representatives of the international community.
On 12 June 2006 the EU Council adopted Conclusions, in which taking note of the Serbian Parliament's Decision it recognised Republic of Serbia as a legal successor of the State Union. The Council called also on Montenegro and on Serbia to pursue a direct and constructive dialogue on their future relations.
The Government of Serbia declared the European integration to be one of the strategic priorities for the Republic.
Since 2001 Serbia has benefited from the EU policy advice provided through the EU-FRY Consultative Task Force (CTF), later replaced by the Enhanced Permanent Dialogue (EPD). The task of EPD is to encourage and monitor reforms on the basis of the European Partnership adopted by the EU Council in June 2004 and updated in January 2006. The current text takes due account of the respective competences and different priorities of Serbia and of Montenegro, will require however an adaptation following the change in the status of the Republics. The EPD structures will remain in place and continue providing support for the reforms in Serbia until formal contractual relations between the EU and Serbia are established through the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in the context of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP). On the basis of decisions taken at the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003 and confirmed on several occasions by the EU, Serbia is a potential candidate country for the EU accession.
In its Feasibility Report of 12 April 2005, the Commission concluded that Serbia and Montenegro is sufficiently prepared to negotiate an SAA with the EU. On 25 April 2005, the EU Council endorsed the Feasibility Report and invited the Commission to submit the negotiating directives for the SAA. In line with the “twin-track” approach the negotiations with the State Union and the two constituent Republics were launched in October 2005, whereas the Commission made clear that the continuation and pace of talks would depend on the progress in addressing by Serbia and Montenegro of issues highlighted by the Commission and the EU Council, including achievement of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) without delay.
Since then two official and two technical rounds of talks were conducted and a progress was made in discussion on the text of the future agreement.
Following a negative assessment on the state of co-operation of Serbia and Montenegro and the failure of Serbia to locate, arrest and transfer Ratko Mladić to The Hague, submitted by ICTY, the Commission decided on 3 May 2006 to call off the negotiations.
In the light of the outcome of the referendum in Montenegro the Commission announced its intension to submit to the Council a proposal for an amended negotiating mandate for an SAA with Serbia. It recalled that even pending the adoption of the amended negotiating mandate it was prepared to resume negotiations as soon as the condition of co-operation with ICTY has been fulfilled.
The SAA will be a comprehensive agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Serbia, of the other part. Similar to the “Europe Agreements” with countries of the Central and Eastern Europe, the SAA will provide a legal framework for the relations between the EU and Serbia for the entire period prior to the possible future accession.
Since 2000 the EU has granted, on an autonomous basis, generous trade conditions for Serbian products as part of the support package in the framework of the SAP. In order to take the full advantage of these preferences Serbia will need to continue the necessary reforms and to develop its export capacity.
Bilateral trade relations with the EU also include the trade in textile and textile products, which is governed by the Textile Agreement signed between the Republic of Serbia and the EU on 31 March 2005. This agreement brings the immediate opening of the EU market for textile and textile products originating from Serbia and Serbia’s commitment to phase out its tariffs for the EU textile imports over a period of three years and to apply a zero tariff rate on EU textiles from January 2008 onwards.
In total, combining CARDS, macro-financial and humanitarian assistance, EU assistance to the whole Serbia and Montenegro has amounted to more than €2.9 billion since 1991 to 2002, of which more than €2 billion since the fall of Milosevic regime in October 2000. The focus and main objectives of EU assistance have evolved since the 1990s, covering conflict management, post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation and paving the way for a closer association with the EU. The support provided through CARDS in 2005 (154.5 million EUR for Serbia) focused mainly on the European Partnership priorities, taking into account political and economic situation in Serbia and the requirements the Republic will have to meet in order to be able to conclude the SAA negotiations and implement the agreement. Serbia benefits also from the regional CARDS programme which in 2005 had an overall budget of 40.0 million EUR to support actions of interest for the whole Western Balkans region in the field of infrastructure, institution building and cross-border co-operation. The annual CARDS programme for 2006 is in the process of being adopted.
Programming has also been launched for the preparation of the future IPA (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance) of which Serbia will be a beneficiary together with all other countries in the Western Balkans in the period of 2007-2013. It will have two components (Institution Building and transition facility, and Cross-border cooperation). The financial framework for support to Serbia has not yet been decided.
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