|Association and partnership agreements provide the framework for relations between non-EU countries and the EU Member States. When the European Union concludes an agreement with a third country, the treaty cannot be ratified or enter into force unless the European Parliament gives its assent.
Although association agreements generally focus on political dialogue and economic cooperation between the parties, they often involve the gradual establishment of a free-trade area for certain industrial and agricultural products, while at the same time encouraging sustainable development. The agreements can also include provisions on security, the movement of persons, illegal immigration and combating organised crime. They facilitate cooperation in areas ranging from private investment to scientific programmes and environmental protection. Cultural and social exchanges also help ensure a broader dialogue between ordinary people from both sides.
For some years now, thanks to pressure from Parliament, the agreements have systematically included human rights clauses and may be suspended if these are breached. In the past, Parliament has successfully used this form of leverage to make some non-EU countries provide credible pledges that they will improve their human rights record. In the 1980s and 1990s, for example, Parliament delayed the conclusion of agreements or protocols with countries such as Israel, Turkey, Syria and Morocco.
Spanning the shores of the Mediterranean
During the 1999-2004 parliamentary term, MEPs approved Euro-Mediterranean association agreements with Egypt (2001), Algeria (2002) and Lebanon (2002), in line with the 1995 Barcelona Declaration on establishing closer relations between the European Union and the countries of the Mediterranean. The aim of these agreements is to contribute to peace and security and to stimulate trade relations and political dialogue with the region.
The European Parliament approved the agreement with Egypt after more than six years of negotiations. The agreement covers a whole range of areas with a direct impact on people's lives - education, science and technology, the environment, industry, financial services, agriculture and fisheries, telecommunications, energy, transport, tourism, money-laundering, combating drugs and terrorism and consumer protection.
It took five years of negotiations to finalise the association agreement with Algeria. One of the distinguishing features of this agreement is the introduction of closer cooperation in the sphere of justice and home affairs, which will have a very real impact on ordinary people. The two sides pledged to simplify and speed up procedures for issuing visas. And the agreement also covers cooperation on combating organised crime, money-laundering, racism and xenophobia, drugs and terrorism as well as preventing illegal immigration.
Parliament gave its assent to the agreement with Lebanon after seven years of negotiations. A key aspect of the agreement is the gradual establishment of a free-trade area - over a 12-year period - for agricultural and industrial products. Other provisions deal with rights of establishment, competition, the movement of capital, protection of intellectual property and public contracts.
A strategic agreement for Latin America
Lastly, in giving the go-ahead for an association agreement with Chile in 2003, Parliament approved a genuine strategic partnership between the European Union and Latin America, as it had proposed in a resolution adopted in 2001. The agreement is based on three main elements: political dialogue, trade and cooperation. The "political" clauses deal with the challenges of globalisation, the fight against terrorism and respect for human rights. On trade, the agreement provides for tariff cuts which go even further than the requirements of the World Trade Organisation, particularly when it comes to the liberalisation of industrial and agricultural products from Chile. And, finally, the cooperation provisions focus on combating clandestine immigration and poverty and on environmental matters.