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The EU enlargement process provides a major opportunity for the protection of the environment. Compliance with the environmental acquis, is a significant challenge for the candidate countries (Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania) and the potential candidate countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo* ). The perspective of membership offers a framework for development, and provides concrete targets to be achieved.

By their date of accession, candidate countries must be able to effectively apply all EU legislation and policy. During the pre-accession period, the European Commission works with the candidate countries and potential candidates to assist them in adapting their environmental legislation and upgrading their implementation and enforcement capacities in order to meet the EU's environmental protection requirements.

Preparations for membership present three particular challenges for the environmental sector:

  1. Legal: over 200 pieces of EU environmental legislation have to be transposed into national legislation in a relatively short period of time;
  2. Administrative: often weak and under-resourced administrations have to be significantly strengthened to be able to implement and enforce the environmental acquis.
  3. Financial: substantial financial resources and investments in infrastructure and technology are needed to strengthen the facilities and infrastructure in particular in the waste and water sectors (see under financing).


Accession Partnership, established in 2001 and successively revised in 2003 and 2008, is the framework for cooperation and negotiation of Turkey's accession to the EU.

The EU’s Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) was launched in 1999 and is the EU framework policy for the countries of South East Europe (except Turkey). In the field of environment it aims to bring about improvements in the medium and longer term through:

  • Harmonisation with the environmental norms and standards of the EU;
  • Placing the environmental protection issues high on the political agenda, at all levels of government ;
  • The exchange of experience and know-how with the new EU Member States who have recent experience of the transition process;
  • Stronger co-operation on trans boundary environmental issues;
  • Increased public awareness of environmental issues through higher openness and access to environmental information.


Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs)

These agreements are used to support EU policy in the Western Balkans. The agreements with Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are now in force.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence