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Helping countries prepare for accession

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Candidate countries receive support from the EU through accession partnerships and the Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance (IPA).

European Parliament in Strasbourg
European Parliament in Strasbourg© picture-alliance/ANP XTRA
The accession partnerships are an important element of this strategy: the EU agrees these partnerships separately with each (potential) candidate country for the accession negotiations. The EU agrees on “European partnerships” with the countries of the Western Balkans as a tool in the stabilisation and association process.

These agreements identify the priorities (targets) the EU expects candidate countries to address as well as the financial resources to be made available – under specific conditions – for this purpose. Progress in meeting these targets determines how much funding is made available and decides when accession negotiations will start, or how quickly they will proceed.

As part of the pre-accession strategy, candidate countries also have the chance to participate in EU programmes and agencies. This strengthens cooperation between the candidate states and the EU and gives candidates a practical insight into the Union’s instruments and policies.

Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance (IPA)

Since 2007 the EU’s assistance for (potential) candidates for accession has been delivered through the IPA (Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance).

The European Commission Annual Report 2013 describes the various instruments used in the period 2007-2013. From 2014, these were collated in the IPA II (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance). IPA II replaces the previous pre-accession instruments PHARE (Poland and Hungary Action for the Reconstruction of the Economy), ISPA (Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-accession), SAPARD (Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development) and the financial instrument CARDS (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation).

In addition to supporting political reform and economic, social and territorial development, IPA II also aims, on the one hand, to enhance the country's ability to meet the requirements of EU law and future EU membership and, on the other, to deepen regional integration and territorial cooperation.

So it focuses on the following five policy fields:

  1. reforms to prepare for accession to the EU and establishment of the necessary institutions and capacities,
  2. socio-economic and regional development,
  3. regional and territorial cooperation,
  4. agriculture and rural development, as well as
  5. employment, social policy, education, promotion of gender equality and development of human capital.

Currently, one new feature is the system of incentives which enables countries to obtain additional financial resources if they make particularly good progress on meeting the accession criteria or if they make especially efficient, targeted use of the funding to attain the agreed objectives.

In the 2014-2020 Financial Framework, the EU is making available a total of 11.7 billion euros in pre-accession assistance.

The IPA II committee which is made up of representatives of the member states and chaired by a Commission representative supports the Commission in all policy fields. It is responsible for legal acts and earmarking of funds and uses strategy papers to decide on individual countries, multi-beneficiary programmes, cross-border programmes and annual action programmes for individual countries. Just like all instruments in the multiannual financial framework, the IPA is due for a mid‑term review at the end of 2017. The strategy papers are also reviewed halfway through the term and updated if necessary.

The final provisions of the IPA regulation also determine that pledges can be adapted in line with the political priorities for EU external action in the case of important unforeseen circumstances or major political change. The funds are available to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, irrespective of their candidate status. (On 22 May 2013, the Icelandic Government announced its decisions to put its accession negotiations on hold. By then, considerable progress had been made in the negotiations. The Commission then stopped making new commitments within the IPA and started to gradually close down IPA projects. After consultation with the Government, the preparatory work for the IPA II was also halted.)

More Information

Information from the EU on European partnerships

More on European Commission pre-accession assistance

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