Association agreements imply a deeper relationship between the European Community (European Union) and third countries than run of the mill international agreements, but this category of agreements is brought to attention more by the existence of a special treaty provision than by its clarity. In practice, the term association has been used for various kinds of agreements.
Article 310 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) provides for the establishment of an association with one or more state (third country). The “special relationship” is emphasised more by the existence of this provision than by its contents.
Reciprocal rights and obligations are the bread and butter of international agreements. Common action and special procedure hint at more evolved relations. Article 310 TEC does not elaborate on the objectives or contents of the relationship.
The conclusion of an association agreement is ruled by Article 300 TEC, with the notable requirement in paragraph 2 that unanimity is required in the Council.
Article 310 TEC is found in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 29.12.2006 C 321 E/179:
Article 310 TEC
The Community may conclude with one or more States or international organisations agreements establishing an association involving reciprocal rights and obligations, common action and special procedure.
Original Lisbon Treaty
Article 2, point 172 of the original Treaty of Lisbon inserted the text of Article 310 TEC into the treaty with a new number 188m and a small specific amendment (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/97):
172) An Article 188 M shall be inserted, with the wording of Article 310. The word ‘States’ shall be replaced by ‘third countries’.
Consolidated Lisbon Treaty
If the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, Article 188m would appear renumbered as Article 217 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), including the specific amendment that the partners would be called third countries as elsewhere in the treaties, since (Member) States is the term reserved for EU members. As usual, Community would be replaced by Union according to the horizontal amendment (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/144):
Article 217 TFEU
(ex Article 310 TEC)
The Union may conclude with one or more third countries or international organisations agreements establishing an association involving reciprocal rights and obligations, common action and special procedure.
The Lisbon Treaty would not change the substance of Article 310 TEC. Thus, it would not expand upon the objectives, categories or contents either.
For a brief overview you could read the clear but somewhat incomplete Wikipedia article European Union Association Agreement, which focuses on two policy areas of heavier involvement, namely the Stabilisation and Association Process and the European Neighbourhood Policy (latest update 22 December 2008):
Stabilisation and Association Process
The Commission offers web pages on the Stabilisation and Association Process, the framework for EU negotiations with the Western Balkan countries on their way to their eventual EU membership. You can start here:
European Neighbourhood Policy
The Commission explains the European Neighbourhood Policy on this and on related pages:
Scope of association agreements
Eur-Lex does not present association agreements as a group among classification headings. There are 31 pages of hits (many of them updates of existing agreements) under Association when you look at International agreements classified according to subject matter:
A simple search of the Commission’s Treaties Office Database offers 50 (basic) agreements to the search term ‘association’, which is a manageable number to start eliminating the false starts:
European Economic Area (EEA)
One association worth special mention is the agreement on the European Economic Area. The Preamble of EEA agreement reaffirms he high priority attached by the parties to the privileged relationship between the European Community, its Member States and the EFTA States, which is based on proximity, long-standing common values and European identity;
The scope of the agreement on the European Economic Area goes well beyond free trade by providing for the continuing reception of large parts of the evolving Community acquis as well as participation in EU programmes in various policy areas:
1. The aim of this Agreement of association is to promote a continuous and balanced strengthening of trade and economic relations between the Contracting Parties with equal conditions of competition, and the respect of the same rules, with a view to creating a homogeneous European Economic Area, hereinafter referred to as the EEA.
2. In order to attain the objectives set out in paragraph 1, the association shall entail, in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement :
(a) the free movement of goods;
(b) the free movement of persons;
(c) the free movement of services;
(d) the free movement of capital;
(e) the setting up of a system ensuring that competition is not distorted and that the rules thereon are equally respected; as well as
(f) closer cooperation in other fields, such as research and development, the environment, education and social policy.
Overseas countries and territories
Overseas countries and territories (OCTs) are a special group where the term association is used (Articles 182 to 188 TEC; Articles 198 to 204 TFEU).