The EU financial instruments to support the enlargement process

Future Europe

Estimated time of reading: ~ 3 minutes

The EU Commission is actively bolstering its enlargement agenda through various funding mechanisms. Two types of funding can be delineated: those directly targeting the enlargement process and those indirectly contributing to its advancement.

In the first category, the spotlight undoubtedly falls on the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), the leading financial instrument used to support countries in their preparation for joining the EU. However, there exist other significant mechanisms, like the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) that supports activities aimed at promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in eligible enlargement countries; the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF), which focuses specifically on the Western Balkans region and aims to support investments in infrastructure, energy, environment, and social sectors to foster economic development and enhance connectivity with the EU; the Civil Society Facility (CSF) that supports civil society organizations in enlargement countries through financial assistance and capacity-building activities, enabling them to contribute to the democratic processes and reforms actively.

In the second category, it is worth mentioning the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) and Erasmus Plus, for example. While not directly targeting EU enlargement, the ENI provides financial support to neighbouring countries, including potential enlargement partners, to promote stability, security, and sustainable development. Countries like Turkey and North Macedonia can participate in Erasmus projects with the same conditions as EU countries, allowing them to participate in educational programmes to develop and share common EU values.

We can focus now on the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA).

Since 2007, the IPA has provided funding for a wide range of activities, including economic and social development, institution building, and alignment with EU standards and policies. The current beneficiaries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey.

We are currently in the IPA III (2021-2027) phase. Its general objective is to support the beneficiaries in adopting and implementing the political, institutional, legal, administrative, social and economic reforms required by those beneficiaries to comply with Union values.

The IPA III instrument is aligned with the flagships and priorities of the “Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans” (October 2020), the Western Balkan Strategy “A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans” (February 2018), and the Commission Communication “Enhancing the accession process – a credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans” (February 2020).

It’s noteworthy to observe the simultaneous rise in interest towards the enlargement agenda alongside a corresponding increase in investment in such funds.

The first Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (2007-2013) had a budget of €11.5 billion. IPA II was allocated €12.8 billion for 2014-2020. For the current multiannual financial framework period 2021-2027, the IPA III budgetary envelope is €14.162 billion.  This trend underscores the European Commission’s commitment to foster the enlargement process, demonstrating an evident dedication to supporting the growth and integration of aspiring member states.

Written by: Cristina Ceccarelli

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