Any European country that respects the principles of liberty and democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, may apply to become a member of the EU. However, candidate countries must adopt the entire body of EU law (acquis), including the area of home affairs.
The acquis is divided into chapters to ensure a better step-by-step negotiation process. There is a chapter on Justice, Freedom and Security (Chapter 24), which covers:
- visa policy,
- external borders and Schengen,
- judicial cooperation in criminal and civil matters,
- police cooperation,
- customs cooperation,
- fight against organised crime,
- fight against terrorism,
- fight against drugs,
- and the fight against counterfeiting of the euro.
The EU provides financial assistance to candidate countries and potential candidates through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). Twinning projects are financed across key areas, such as border management, reform of the judiciary, asylum and the fight against organised crime and corruption. A number of Technical Assistance Information Exchange (TAIEX) seminars have been organised on Home Affairs issues.
Accession of Western Balkan countries
Stabilisation and Association Process
The Stabilisation and Association Process is the framework for EU’s relationship with the Western Balkan countries until their eventual accession. The process helps candidate countries to build their capacity in order to adopt and implement EU law, as well as European and international standards.
Stabilisation and Association Agreements are put in place between the EU and each Western Balkan country. The agreement represents a contractual relationship, entailing mutual rights and obligations. It also includes a chapter on Justice, Freedom and Security.
A key development in EU relations with candidate and potential candidate countries is the visa liberalisation with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia.
The citizens of Kosovo* do not enjoy visa-free travel to the EU. On 18 July 2018, the Commission presented its final Report confirming that Kosovo* had fulfilled all benchmarks in the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue. After votes in the European Parliament supporting the Commission’s proposal, it is now for Member States in the Council to move this forward.
Visa-free travel provides a strong incentive for Western Balkan countries to intensify their fundamental reform efforts. As such, it greatly helps to advance the accession process. It is a powerful tool in facilitating people-to-people contacts and in strengthening ties between the EU and citizens of visa-free countries.
The visa-free travel agreement does not come without responsibilities. While the overwhelming majority of citizens from visa-free countries in the Western Balkans are bona fide travellers with legitimate grounds to travel to the EU, the Commission regularly monitors the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements and actions taken by countries. It does so to ensure, that the progress achieved is maintained and that potential abuses of the visa-free regime are effectively addressed.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.
Cooperation with Türkiye in the field of home affairs
Accession negotiations with Türkiye on chapter 24 related to home affairs is not yet opened. Nevertheless, the EU regularly monitors the developments of Turkish legislation and administrative capacities in this field through annual progress reports and fosters them through financial and technical assistance provided by the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance.
Meanwhile, as requested by the Council Conclusions adopted on 21 June 2012, on 16 December 2013, the EU-Türkiye readmission agreement was signed and, in parallel, the visa liberalisation dialogue between the European Commission and the Turkish authorities was launched. The dialogue is carried out on the basis of the Roadmap towards visa-free regime with Türkiye. In order to enable the Commission to present the proposal to the Council and to the Parliament to lift the visa obligations, this document sets out a comprehensive list of reforms that Türkiye has been asked to implement and areas where it is expected to develop cooperation with the EU.
Reports on Türkiye's progress
The first Commission report on Türkiye's progress in fulfilling the requirements of the visa roadmap was published on 20 October 2014. On 4 March 2016, the Commission adopted the second report, accompanied by a Commission staff working document, and on 5 May 2016, the Commission adopted the third report accompanied by a Commission staff working document.
The EU-Türkiye Statement of 18 March 2016, is the framework for cooperation with Türkiye on migration. The Statement has been instrumental in reducing irregular migrant arrivals to the EU, decreasing the number of lives lost at sea, expanding safe and legal channels to the EU for Syrian refugees through resettlement, and improve living conditions for Syrian refugees in Türkiye through the €6 billion Facility for Refugees in Türkiye.