The Association (Europe) Agreement provides an appropriate framework to the gradual integration of Estonia into the European Union. The Agreement entitles Estonia to all the advantages and responsibilities of being an Associated Member and helps Estonia to achieve the objective to become a member of the European Union. Estonia is the only candidate country having concluded an Association Agreement with the European Union without a transitional period.
Chronology of the Europe Agreement
- June 12, 1995 Estonia signed the Europe Agreement with the European Union;
- August 1, 1995 In an extraordinary session the Europe Agreement was unanimously ratified by the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament);
- November 15, 1995 The European Parliament ratified the Europe Agreement between Estonia and the EU;
- November 21, 1995 - November 19, 1997 All EU member states ratified Estonia's Europe Agreement;
- February 1, 1998 Estonia's Europe Agreement entered into force.
Implementation of the Agreement
Several administrative bodies deal with the implementation and monitoring of the Europe Agreement and the mandates contained therein. These bodies facilitate the institutionalisation of relations between Estonia and the EU on the government, parliament, and sector level, and establish a forum for discussing progress in preparations for full membership.
The Association Council meets at ministerial level once a year. It was convened for the first time on February 23, 1998. This is the highest political body of the Europe Agreement. The Council comprises of Foreign Ministers of the Member States, the Commissioner responsible for the Enlargement and the Estonian Foreign Minister.
The framework has been provided for further developing bilateral co-operation, in particular giving the right to participate in the Community programmes, including the Fifth Framework programme for research and technological development. The institutions, established under the Agreement, ensure that all sectors relevant to the European integration are regularly discussed by experts both from the European Union's and Estonia's side.
The third meeting of the Association Council was held on February 14, 2000 in Brussels and chaired by the Portuguese Presidency, Foreign Minister Mr. Jaime Gama. The European Commission was represented by the Commissioner responsible for Enlargement, Mr. Günther Verheugen, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, headed the Estonian delegation. The Association Council recognised and appreciated the efforts that Estonia is making in pursuing its goal of European integration. Besides discussing bilateral issues where no problem areas were detected, the Ministers had a fruitful debate on international issues of common interest.
The Association Committee meets regularly once a year at the level of senior civil servants and deals with issues of implementation of various provisions of the Agreement, carrying out the decisions accepted by the Association Council. The Association Committee prepares the meetings and the deliberations of the Association Council.
The third Association Committee meeting took place June 9, 2000 in Brussels. The main item for discussion was the Accession Partnership, which sets out priorities for Estonia's accession preparations and provides the framework for financial support from the EU. The EU welcomed substantial progress made by Estonia in preparations for accession. Both delegations noted further deepening of bilateral economic co-operation and integration and ways to further improve trade relations.
Sub-Committees and Working Groups
Sub-committees and Working Groups assist the Association Committee with regard to specific areas and they report to it after each of their meeting.
As from October 1, 1999 there are eight Sub-Committees on: Agriculture and Fisheries; Internal Market; Trade and Industry; Economic and Monetary Issues and Capital Movements; Innovation; Transport, Environment, Energy (including TENs); Regional Development, Employment, Social Policy, Customs and Prevention of Illegal Activities. These regular working bodies of the Europe Agreement report to the senior officials of the Association Committee.
The sub-committee structure has been rationalised along the lines of the accession negotiations' chapters of the acquis to facilitate monitoring and information gathering functions for all pre-accession activities.
The Association Agreement also established a bilateral parliamentary committee. The Joint Parliamentary Committee consists of members of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) and the European Parliament. This committee meets to exchange views and forward recommendations to the Association Council. The Committee is also been regularly informed of the Association Council's activities.
The European Parliament delegation to the EU-Estonia Joint Committee is chaired by Mr Per Stenmarck. The Committee on European Affairs of the Riigikogu that consists of 13 members and is chaired by Mr Tunne Kelam, participates in the work of the Joint Committee from the Estonian side.
The Impact of the Europe Agreement
The Free Trade Agreement (FTA), in force from January 1, 1995, was superseded by the Europe Agreement. All the provisions and mandates of the FTA have been included in the Europe Agreement. Estonia's external trade regime has traditionally been liberal for both current and capital account transactions. The Europe Agreement has by granting additional market access concessions to the Estonian agricultural products to the EU internal market as from July 1, 2000, effectively made the trading rules more balanced for Estonia.
Beyond the liberalisation of trade, the Europe Agreement has also made progress in realising the free movement of services and capital with respect of trade and investments between the parties.
The Europe Agreement also includes provisions on the movement of workers, right of establishment, science, education, tourism, intellectual property rights, transport, telecommunications, energy, nuclear safety, environment, financial services, public procurement, customs, prevention of illegal activities, culture, etc.
The Agreement entitles Estonia to all the advantages and responsibilities of being an Associated Member. Estonia is, for example, participating in the Community programmes. In the field of education, Estonia has associated itself to the second phase of Leonardo Da Vinci Programme, which embraces the Community vocational training activities; and the Socrates Programme, which focuses on educational programmes and fosters co-operation with international organisations as from July 2000 and will soon start participating in the Youth Programme, which deals with youth initiative and activity projects. Estonia was the first candidate country to fully associate itself to the Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development as from June 1, 1999.
The Europe Agreement assists Estonia in combating illegal activities through the exchange of information, the standardisation of norms, and the institutionalisation of administrative and technical assistance in the fields of money laundering, the illicit drug traffic, and other criminal activities.
Co-operation is further strengthened through technical assistance and modernisation of several sectors ranging from agriculture, industry, and finance to energy, regional development, and social reform. For example, in the field of environmental protection Estonia and the EU co-operate through the exchange of information and experts, institution building and training programmes, transfer of technology, approximation of laws to Community standards, education on environmental issues, etc.