A European Union Association Agreement or simply Association Agreement (AA) is a treaty between the European Union (EU), its Member States and a non-EU country that creates a framework for co-operation between them. Areas frequently covered by such agreements include the development of political, trade, social, cultural and security links.
Association Agreements are broad framework agreements between the EU (or its predecessors) and its member states, and an external state which governs their bilateral relations. The provision for an association agreement was included in the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, as a means to enable co-operation of the Community with the United Kingdom, which had retreated from the treaty negotiations at the Messina Conference of 1955. According to the European External Action Service, for an agreement to be classified as an AA, it must meet several criteria:
1. The legal basis for [association agreements'] conclusion is Article 217 TFEU (former art. 310 and art. 238 TEC)
2. Intention to establish close economic and political cooperation (more than simple cooperation);
3. Creation of paritary bodies for the management of the cooperation, competent to take decisions that bind the contracting parties;
4. Offering most favoured nation treatment;
5. Providing for a privileged relationship between the EC and its partner;
6. Since 1995 the clause on the respect of human rights and democratic principles is systematically included and constitutes an essential element of the agreement;
7. In a large number of cases, the association agreement replaces a cooperation agreement thereby intensifying the relations between the partners.— European External Action Service
The EU typically concludes Association Agreements in exchange for commitments to political, economic, trade, or human rights reform in a country. In exchange, the country may be offered tariff-free access to some or all EU markets (industrial goods, agricultural products, etc.), and financial or technical assistance. Most recently signed AAs also include a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and the third country.
Association Agreements have to be accepted by the European Union and need to be ratified by all the EU member states and the state concerned.
AAs go by a variety of names (e.g. Euro-Mediterranean Agreement Establishing an Association, Europe Agreement Establishing an Association) and need not necessarily even have the word "Association" in the title. Some AAs contain a promise of future EU membership for the contracting state.
The first states to sign such agreements were Greece in 1961 and Turkey in 1963.
In recent history, such agreements have been signed as part of two EU policies, the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAp) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
The countries of the western Balkans (official candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and potential candidate Kosovo) are covered by SAp. All six have "Stabilisation and Association Agreements" (SAA) with the EU in force.
The Eastern European neighbours of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine are all members of the Eastern Partnership and are covered by the ENP. While Russia has a special status with the EU-Russia Common Spaces instead of ENP participation.
Meanwhile, the countries of the Mediterranean, (Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia) are also covered by the ENP and seven of the Mediterranean states have a "Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an Association" (EMAA) with the EU in force, while Palestine has an interim EMAA in force. Syria initialed an EMAA in 2008, however signing has been deferred indefinitely. Negotiations for a Framework Agreement with the remaining state, Libya, have been suspended.
Moldova and Ukraine have Association Agreements in force. Armenia completed negotiations for a AA in 2013 but decided not to sign the agreement and later signed a revised CEPA with the EU in 2017. Azerbaijan was also negotiating an AA, but did not conclude one.
Both the SAA and ENP are based mostly on the EU's acquis communautaire and its promulgation in the co-operating states legislation. Of course, the depth of the harmonisation is less than full EU members and some policy areas may not be covered (depending on the particular state).
In addition to these two policies, AAs with free-trade agreement provisions have been signed with other states and trade blocs including Chile and South Africa.
Main article: European Union free trade agreements
Trade agreements between the EU and other countries or free trade zones have differential effects on the respective economies. Agricultural industries are most significantly impacted when regional farms have to compete with large producers that gain access to markets when tariffs fall. For large agreements such as the AA with Mercosur, significant opposition exists in European countries against cheaper imports of meats and other products. However, for the manufacturing sector of cars and industrial products for export, usually involving larger global corporations, relevant volume increases are obvious for the more industrialised trade members.
The impact on the environment for those nations that export farm products from areas with rain forests or other ecologically relevant regions, for example in Brazil, has been increasingly documented by environmental groups opposing EU trade agreements. In addition, other industries with large environmental impact such as mining are expanding in areas where the regulatory burden is low, for example in South America and Asia. Industry groups have argued that increased economic performance in those sectors will only strengthen standards in participating nations, and that EU trade agreements should go hand in hand with harmonisation efforts for environmental regulations.
In certain areas, the Agreement is also designed to bring Armenian law gradually closer to the EU acquis. However, it does not go as far as to establish an association between the EU and Armenia.