Based on the priorities of its foreign policy, Albania pays special attention to regional cooperation. It considers regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations as important pillars that guarantee peace, security and stability in the region and as prerequisites for European integration processes as well as the Euro-Atlantic one.
The regional cooperation aims to increase and intensify cooperation between the countries of the region, including political dialogue, expansion and exchange of goods and services, the creation of a regional network energy, transport and telecommunication, facilitating the movement of people, mutual presentation with each other’s cultures, strengthening of ties in education, science and culture, common fight against organized crime, illegal traffics, terrorism, etc.
Since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, the European Union (EU) has endeavoured to promote the regional cooperation in the Balkans as a means to achieve two major goals: greater political stability and rapid economic growth. For this reason two new institutional mechanisms were created to address these objectives:
- Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe;
- Stabilisation and Association Process
Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe originated as a comprehensive strategy of conflict prevention and was promoted by the international community in late 1990. The main objectives of this initiative, which was introduced in Sarajevo in the summer of 1999, were not very different from the previous initiatives regarding the prevention of conflict in the region. However, the Stability Pact offered a new promising dimension: the economic development and regional cooperation.
After eight years of close regional cooperation under the Stability Pact coordination, Eastern Europe was prepared for a new “mediator” between its countries and the international community. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) has taken over the duties of the Pact. RCC supports achieving prosperity and growth through regional action in South East Europe, while supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration. RCC sees the region as a place of dialogue, freedom and mobility, rich in cultural heritage, where each person feels safe and protected by the rule of law.
The need to promote economic and political stability in Southeast Europe, as well as the promotion of reforms to establish the rule of law, stable institutions, and a free economy in the region by opening a potential prospect of EU membership and deepening support agreements in the region, motivated the European Union to propose the Stabilisation and Association Process. This process, materialized by the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreements by the countries involved in the initiative – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia, is based on the gradual establishment of a free trade area and in the implementation of comprehensive reforms, which aim to embrace European standards in order to get ever closer to the EU.
In itself, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement does not constitute a promise for EU integration. It emphasizes the stabilization of the Western Balkans countries, in order to further reinforce their relationship with the European Union.
One of the key features of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is in the paragraphs that emphasize the creation and strengthening of democratic principles, as well as in regional cooperation.
Regional cooperation deals with the establishment of a network of bilateral and multilateral agreements, initiatives, activities, and any other form of “getting together to do things” between the SEE countries in the commercial field, economic, legal and other types of cooperation.
This approach seeks to establish and strengthen the connections between the Balkan countries and their citizen, promoting the spirit of cooperation and reconciliation, to avoid tensions and promote mutual development.
According to the Enlargement strategy of the EU, good neighborly relations are “essential elements of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement” … “and, such as, are closely monitored by the Commission at all stages of the accession process“. The strategy emphasizes that “Regional cooperation strengthens and enhances reconciliation in a region, that did suffer major conflicts in the past. Regional and trade cooperation can bring further economic benefits in the region. It is also an integral part of the EU integration process, which often makes necessary regional approaches and measures“.