Europe Agreements were a specific type of association agreement, negotiated under Article 217 TFEU, between the European Union and the countries of central and eastern Europe, designed to strengthen the latter’s political and economic ties with the Union in advance of potential enlargement. The first Europe Agreements were signed in 1991 with Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. (The dissolution of Czechoslovakia in January 1993 made it necessary to modify that agreement in negotiations with the two successor states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Agreements followed with Bulgaria, Romania, the Baltic states and Slovenia. A precondition was that the associated states be democratic market economies, with free elections, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The ten countries that concluded Europe Agreements all subsequently applied for EU membership (between 1994 and 1996) and were admitted in 2004 or 2007.
The aim of each Europe Agreement was to ‘provide an appropriate framework’ for the associated state’s ‘gradual integration into the Community’. All the agreements provided for the progressive removal of barriers to free trade over a ten-year period, as well as for economic and technical cooperation and financial assistance. Domestic legislation in the associated states was to be made increasingly compatible with EU law. An important feature of Europe Agreements was the emphasis laid on institutions and procedures allowing for bilateral political dialogue. This was conducted at several levels, including that of heads of government, foreign ministers, European Commissioners and the European Parliament.
As part of a pre-accession strategy and by way of complement to the Europe Agreements, arrangements were also made for a ‘structured dialogue’ between the European Union and the countries of central and eastern Europe collectively. This involved (from June 1993) the latter’s participation three times a year in meetings of the Council of Ministers and their right to make formal submissions on matters of interest. It was followed by the launch (from March 1998) of an annual summit meeting of EU and accession states’ heads of government, in the form of a European Conference, although this latter initiative quickly petered out.
Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012
Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry