SAA as the basis for Serbia’s EU association process

The first step on the path to EU integration that Serbia made was the launch of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), as a special form of cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans aimed at gradual development of free trade area and opening of the EU membership perspective.

The process rests on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) which belongs to the new generation of agreements for countries in the Stabilisation and Association Process. Even though the general framework of the Agreement is set in advance (it is a model contract), it is adapted to the specific country. Upon signing the Agreement, the country is granted the status of an associated country and confirmed the status of a potential candidate for fully-fledged EU membership. The SAA is concluded for an indefinite period of time and the deadlines for meeting the obligations are country-specific. Subject of negotiations following the signing of the Agreement are the deadlines for meeting EU requirements and not the conditions for EU entry.

The SAP of our country was launched in 2000 and the first stage of the process successfully ended on 29 April 2008 when the Stabilisation and Association Agreement was signed between the European Communities and their member states on the one hand, and the Republic of Serbia, on the other, and the Interim Trade Agreement as its integral part.

By signing the SAA, Serbia obtained the associated country status, which is the status of the closest relation a non-member country can have with the EU.  This was also a comprehensive contractual relation with the EU and its member states established for the first time with clearly defined rights and obligations of the parties. The two most important obligations Serbia committed to by signing the SAA are the gradual trade liberalisation for industrial and agricultural products and alignment of the domestic regulations with the EU acquis and their consistent implementation. Hence, pursuant to Article 72 of the SAA, Serbia was obliged to prepare, together with the EC a special Programme for implementing the SAA. With this aim in mind, the Serbian Government formulated the National Programme for EU Integration (NPI) which was adopted on 9 October 2008 and revised in December 2009. The EU monitors the alignment of legislation and implementation of regulations from the NPI.

Formalising the two-year institutional cooperation with the EU, Serbia committed to meet all the obligations from the SAA gradually, and the alignment of the domestic legislation began on the day the SAA was signed and it gradually expanded to every element of the EU acquis referred to in the SAA.

The SAA entered into force on 1 September 2013 after the ratification by the Serbian Parliament, the European Parliament, and the parliaments of every EU member state. However, economic aspects of the SAA, i.e. phased establishment of free trade area, started after the ratification of the Interim Agreement which entered into force on 1 February 2010.

When the SAA entered into force, the Interim Agreement was repealed. The obligations stipulated in the SAA which were not in the Interim Agreement became binding and the clock started ticking for the deadlines for their achievement.

Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) based on the SAA
29 April 2008 9 September 2008 1 February 2010 1 September 2013
Signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and of the Interim Trade Agreement Ratification of the SAA by the Serbian Parliament Entry into force of the Interim Trade Agreement Entry into force of the SAA

SAA implementation is monitored by bodies established for that purpose:

  • Stabilisation and Association Council - the highest body of contracting parties, in charge of supervision of implementation and application of the SAA and the arena for policy dialogue. The Council makes binding decisions for contracting parties, as well as recommendations. It meets on an annual basis and is composed of the representatives of the Council of the EU and the EC, on the one hand, and members of the Serbian Government, i.e. ministers, on the other. The Council is chaired by EU or Serbian representative, alternately. All the issues and disputes which arise during SAA implementation are brought before this body;
  • Stabilisation and Association Committee – the key operational body for the supervision of SAA implementation and interpretation, assisting the Council in its duties. The Council may transfer any of its mandates to the Committee including, the making of decisions and recommendations. It is made up of EC experts, on the one hand, and Serbian government experts, on the other. The Committee established seven sub-committees in charge of several SAA areas, i.e. areas of the acquis where all technical and professional issues concerning SAA implementation are considered:
    1. Subcommittee for trade, industry, customs, and taxes
    2. Subcommittee for agriculture and fisheries,
    3. Sub-committee for internal market and competition (NBS is a member - discusses banking, insurance and other financial services, consumer protection, i.e. protection of financial services consumers),
    4. Subcommittee for economic and financial issues, and statistics (NBS is a member - discusses economic criteria for EU membership, free movement of capital, statistics, and financial controls, i.e. protection of the euro from counterfeiting),
    5. Subcommittee for justice, freedom, security, and migrations,
    6. Subcommittee for innovations, technical development, and social policy,
    7. Subcommittee for transport, environment, energy, and regional development
  • SAA Parliamentary Committee - forum for exchange of opinions between Serbian MPs and European MPs.

Though grounded in different legal bases, with the progress made in negotiations with the EU, the association and accession processes are gradually converging into one process. Therefore, during accession negotiations, SAA implementation will be monitored by bodies established for that purpose and the level of progress in accession will be judged based on effective SAA implementation.[1]

[1]EU negotiation framework: “The progress of negotiations will particularly be evaluated based on the requirements which, inter alia, mean meeting the obligations stipulated in the SAA by Serbia”.