The EU has close links with the countries of the Western Balkans. It aims to secure stable, prosperous and well-functioning democratic societies on a steady path towards EU integration.
The conditions for establishing contractual relations with these countries were first laid down in the Council Conclusions of April 1997. In 1999, the Council established the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP). It was confirmed that the countries of the Western Balkans would be eligible for EU membership if they met the criteria established at the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993.
The European Council's determination to fully and effectively support the Western Balkans on their path towards European integration was reiterated by the Thessaloniki European Council of 19-20 June 2003, which endorsed the Thessaloniki Declaration and the Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: moving towards European integration. These documents were adopted at the EU-Western Balkans Summit held on 21 June 2003 in Thessaloniki.
The European Council of 14-15 December 2006 reaffirmed the need for fair and rigorous conditions in line with the Copenhagen political criteria, the stabilisation and association process and the renewed consensus on admitting new countries to the EU.
Montenegro and Serbia have started membership talks. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania are candidate countries, while the others are potential candidates for EU membership.
Under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the EU retains a key supporting role in stabilising Bosnia and Herzegovina, through a military-led mission (EUFOR/Althea). Between 2003 and 2012 the EU also deployed a police mission (EUPM) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Kosovo*, the EU has deployed a mission to support the Kosovo authorities in upholding the rule of law (EULEX). CSDP missions have also been deployed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Within the Stabilisation and Association Process, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are essential for stability and the region's ongoing reconciliation process.
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* This designation is without prejudice to position on status, and is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.