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Europe and Central Asia

While being a key leader in the European Union (EU), Britain also plays an active role in promoting democracy and development in Europe and Central Asia and works with leaders in the region to respond to today's challenges.


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    The European Union
    The European Union is a unique partnership of sovereign nations work closely together for the benefit of all their citizens. The EU is made up of 27 member countries with 450 million citizens.

    On January 1, 1973, the United Kingdom (along with Denmark and Ireland) joined the European Union. Since joining the Union, the UK continually plays a crucial role in the bloc. Most UK government departments are involved in EU-wide activities, which cover areas such as justice and home affairs, agriculture, trade policy and competition policy. 

    Currently, member states take turns (for six months at a time) to chair EU meetings and represent the EU in international meetings as the EU President. Britain took the lead of the EU from July 1 to December 31, 2020 when it assumed the EU Presidency. This was the sixth time the UK held the Presidency, having last held it in 1998.

    Learn more about the European Union and the UK's role within in the EU.

    The Transition of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union
    The last decade of the 20th century witnessed a process of change - commonly known as "the transition" - that transformed the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

    The Europe and Central Asia region is progressing steadily beyond the transition phase, which began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Markets in most of the region's 28 countries have responded favorably to reforms, and political change in some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has improved performance.

    The Region and the EU
    The Western Balkans region is made up of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia (including Kosovo). Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo is part of Serbia, although it has been under UN administration since 1999. Its future status is currently the subject of international negotiations, led by the UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, to reach a permanent settlement of Kosovo's status.

    The UK sees the Western Balkans as part of Europe; it is strongly in the UK's interests that the world tackle the legacy of the conflicts of the 1990s, and help these countries follow those of Eastern and Central Europe down the road to EU and NATO integration. Therefore, UK policy has two closely interrelated pillars:

    • Dealing with the outstanding political and security questions, such as Kosovo's status. The UK wants to see remaining war criminals brought to justice in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
    • Maintaining the credibility and momentum of the enlargement process. In this respect, the 2005 UK Presidency of the EU was very successful. But it will be a long, hard road

    The EU is playing a leading role building stability in the Western Balkans. The Stabilization and Association process (SAp) offers each country in the region a road map towards eventual EU membership. The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) is one key step along this road. The agreements cover political dialogue, support for political and economic reform, aid and trade relations. Countries must meet basic criteria in these areas for eligibility. The European Union opened accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, and it also signed a pre-membership agreement with Albania. Following its referendum on independence in May 2006, Montenegro declared its independence from the union of Serbia and Montenegro.

    While membership in the EU has spurred many countries to move ahead with complex reforms that are owned by countries themselves, challenges remain across the region.

    Where Does the UK Stand?
    The UK has long been a champion of the principle of enlarging the EU and is committed to seeing the countries of the Western Balkans join when they have met the criteria. The road ahead remains difficult. The region is still recovering from the wars of the 1990s and the transition from communism. Change happens slowly, good reforms have been made and now they must be implemented. Corruption and organized crime need to be tackled to allow the region to develop and enable legitimate economies to grow. The promise of integration with the EU has been a powerful factor in the growth of democracy across the region and is helping to draw the countries towards the European mainstream.

    In addition to the direct effects of crime, criminal networks and the corruption they foster are holding back the countries from their EU member aspirations. The UK is playing a leading role in the fight against crime in the Western Balkans and hosted the first EU-Western Balkans Conference on Organized Crime in 2002.

    Since 2002, interior ministers from across Europe have met with their counterparts at a yearly conference to discuss the issues and look at ways to improve cooperation and results. In November 2005, during its presidency of the EU, the UK hosted a productive meeting in Vienna of interior and justice ministers from the Western Balkans. At this meeting, priorities for the fight against organized crime were agreed and experience was exchanged. The UK continues to work closely with Western Balkans governments and law enforcement agencies on a wide range of projects aimed at improving their capacity to tackle justice and home affairs problems successfully.

    Also, the UK's Department for International Development (DfID) contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable development in middle income countries, including Eastern Europe.

    DFID's bilateral technical assistance program has been used primarily in support of other donors' activities. A Regional Assistance Plan builds on this experience; it seeks radically to increase the focus of their activities, to ensure that the program and human resources available are deployed most effectively. To do this, DfID have confined their efforts to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

    The strategy for the promotion of safety, security and access to justice in the Western Balkans forms part of the UK's Western Balkans' Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP). This strategy combines the efforts of DfID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defense. This strategy analyzes the links between conflict and justice, and provides a mechanism to identify interventions that contribute to reducing conflict in the region.

    The long-term goal of the strategy is a safe and just society for all in the Balkans, with laws that meet European standards. The medium-term goal is that well functioning justice systems reduce the sources of conflict in the region. The aim is that public bodies implement justice strategies that effectively reduce local tension and conflict and prevent crime.

    To join the EU, a country needs a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with the competitive pressures of membership. To this end, the UK supports the liberalization of trade between the EU and the Western Balkans, so their markets develop and they prepare for eventual membership.

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