Any country seeking membership of the European Union (EU) must conform to the conditions set out by Article 49 and the principles laid down in Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union. Relevant criteria were established by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 and strengthened by the Madrid European Council in 1995 (Copenhagen criteria).
In 2005 Turkey started accession negotiations but in 2006 the European Council decided that until Turkey agrees to apply the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus, negotiation of eight Chapters, including Customs Union, will not start and several others, including Taxation, will not be provisionally closed
In 2012 and 2013 respectively, accession negotiations were started with Montenegro and Serbia. Montenegro has opened negotiations on both Customs and Taxation while Serbia has done so only as regards Customs.
The Republic of North Macedonia and Albania were granted candidate status in 2005 and 2014 respectively but accession negotiations have not yet started.
Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* are potential candidates for accession.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence'
Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAA)
Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo (the Western Balkan Six) have all signed and ratified "Stabilization and Association Agreements" (SAA) with the European Union.
The Stabilization and Association agreements establish a free trade area between the EU and the country concerned, identify common political and economic objectives and encourage regional co-operation. In the context of accession to the European Union, the SAA serves as the basis for implementation of the accession process. The EU and each of the Western Balkan 6, regularly discuss Customs and Taxation matters in the framework of their respective SAA’s. Legislative and other activities are monitored by the Commission and results are detailed in an annual "regular (or progress) report".
Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA)
All Western Balkan enlargement countries plus Moldova are parties to CEFTA. CEFTA seeks to promote trade within the region by eliminating tariffs to regional trade and identifying and reducing non-tariff barriers to trade. In 2018, a protocol on trade facilitation entered into force and CEFTA parties launched negotiations on a new protocol on dispute settlement.
Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance
Enlargement countries receive support from the European Union’s Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) in the modernization of their tax and customs administrations.
Participation in cooperation programmes on Taxation and Customs
Turkey, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina participate in Fiscalis 2020 and Customs 2020. These EU programs promote cooperation among national tax and customs administrations respectively.
Such cooperation includes not only the exchange of expertise but also the development and operation of various trans-European IT systems. Having tax and customs administrations from enlargement countries participate in these two programs with their counterparts in the Member States helps them improve their performance and align their procedures with those used in the EU.
Directorate General European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations website