From transition to EU integration

The deep changes have also created conditions for co-operation and integration of Estonia into the EU. The first assistance was granted under the PHARE programme. The next step for deeper integration was taken through the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The FTA between Estonia and the EU came into force on 1 January 1995. Estonia negotiated the Europe Agreement (Association Agreement) in 1994–1995. The European Agreement (EA) with the European Union was signed on 14 June 1995. Estonia is the first country to conclude such an agreement without a transition period. The Europe Agreement is partly based on the FTA between Estonia and the EU. The EA replaced the FTA after its ratification in February 1998. The FTA then became part of the EA.

Estonia presented its application for membership in the European Union on 24 November 1995. The European Commission presented an opinion on the application and recommended commencing accession negotiations with Estonia. At the Luxembourg Summit at the end of 1997, the European Council decided to begin EU accession negotiations with six countries, including Estonia. The Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels in March 1998 marked the beginning of Estonia’s accession to the EU and the formal accession process.

Special standards, quality requirements and other regulations, as well as differences in legislation and complicated administrative procedures, can be important trade barriers to market access. One way to remove trade barriers is to harmonise regulatory regimes (e.g. standards, administrative requirements, customs procedures, product testing, certification, etc.). Therefore, an approximation to EU quality standards is one of the main objectives of the Estonian pre-accession phase. Implementation of the rules, standards and norms of the Single Market will help to increase the competitiveness of Estonian companies by removal of cost-creating barriers and, as a result, improved market access. The final objective of Estonia is to harmonise all the legislation with the acquis communautaire in all relevant areas.

In March 1998, the accession negotiations between Estonia and the EU were launched. During 1998 and 1999, the so-called “screening” exercise took place, which was finished in autumn 1999. The acquis communautaire, the body of all the EU rules, is divided into 32 chapters and under each chapter the Estonian legislation and administrative system was carefully analysed. The aim was to find out to what extent Estonian legislation had already been harmonised with EU rules and which steps still had to be taken. The current aim is to harmonise the major part of Estonian legislation with the EU system by the end of 2002. In several areas, the need for a transition period is envisioned.

Estonian integration into the world economy has been promoted by a liberal economic policy and several agreements signed on the state level. Participation in organisations promoting trade cooperation (a free trade and association agreement with the EU, with other Baltic states, and the EFTA countries) have benefited Estonia in ways which could not be realised through partnership with separate countries.

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