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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 former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro and Serbia) and the potential candidates (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo* ). The perspective of membership offers a framework for development, and provides concrete targets to be achieved.

In order to join the Union, countries need to fulfil the economic and political conditions known as the 'Copenhagen criteria' according to which a prospective member must:

  • be a stable democracy, respecting human rights, the rule of law, and the protection of minorities;
  • have a functioning market economy;
  • adopt the common rules, standards and policies that make up the body of EU law.

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. In addition, competences in the field of environment are often shared between several public administration bodies (ministries and institutions), requiring good coordination mechanisms.

3. Financial: substantial financial resources and investments in infrastructure and technology is needed to establish, adapt, improve and modernize the facilities and infrastructure in particular in the waste and the water sectors.

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.

Following the recent history of conflict in the Balkans, the initial focus was on physical reconstruction and rehabilitation. This emphasis has now shifted to institution-building with the aim of assisting the reform processes and thus preparing the countries for a closer relationship with the EU.

Being non-member states, the relations with the countries of the region are governed by formal agreements that have to be ratified by EU Member States. The different types of agreement are:

Association Agreement

For Turkey, the Association Agreement from 1963 is the basis for the current relations. This early Agreement focused on the creation of a Customs Union that was established in 1995.

Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs). These agreements are used to support EU policy in the Western Balkans. The agreements with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Croatia are now in force. Stabilization and Association Agreement and Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related issues have been signed with Serbia (April 2008), Bosnia & Herzegovina (June 2008), Albania (May 2006) and Montenegro (October 2007). For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the interim agreements are in force while the SAAs will enter into force once the ratification process is completed. EU and Kosovo are currently negotiating for the conclusion of a Stabilization and Association Agreement.


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