In order to improve the efficiency of the Union's External Aid, a new framework for programming and delivery of assistance was adopted at the same time as the 2006 reform of the Structural Funds. The Regulation establishing an Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) constitutes one of the general instruments directly supporting European External Aid policies [Regulation 1085/2006]. In the interests of coherence and consistency of EU assistance, assistance for candidate countries as well as for potential candidate countries is granted in the context of a coherent framework, taking advantage of the lessons learned from earlier pre-accession instruments, but this assistance is also consistent with the development policy of the European Union in accordance with Article 212 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (ex Article 181a TEC) [see sections 24.4 and 25.2].
The EU assists candidate countries and potential candidate countries in their progressive alignment with the standards and policies of the European Union, including where appropriate the acquis communautaire (European legislation), with a view to membership. A distinction is however made between candidate countries (Croatia until 1st July 2013, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and potential candidate countries (Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, including Kosovo). In general, assistance for candidate countries as well as for potential candidate countries supports a wide range of institution-building measures. On the one hand it supports them in their efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law, reform public administration, carry out economic reforms, respect human as well as minority rights, promote gender equality, support the development of civil society and advance regional cooperation as well as reconciliation and reconstruction. On the other hand, EU assistance contributes to sustainable development and poverty reduction in all these countries. Assistance for candidate countries additionally focuses on the adoption and implementation of the full acquis communautaire and prepares candidate countries for the implementation of the common agricultural and cohesion policies. Assistance for potential candidate countries may include some alignment with the acquis communautaire, but is centred on support for investment projects, aiming in particular at building management capacity in the areas of regional, human resources and rural development.
Assistance is programmed and implemented according to the following components: (a) Transition Assistance and Institution Building; (b) Cross-Border Cooperation; (c) Regional Development; (d) Human Resources Development; (e) Rural Development. The Transition Assistance and Institution Building, and Cross-Border Cooperation Components are accessible to all beneficiary countries, in order to assist them in the process of transition and approximation to the EU, as well as to encourage regional cooperation between them. The Regional Development Component, the Human Resources Development Component, and the Rural Development Component are accessible only to candidate countries accredited to manage funds in a decentralised manner, in order to help them prepare for the time after accession, in particular for the implementation of the Union's cohesion and rural development policies. Potential candidate countries and candidate countries that have not been accredited to manage funds in a decentralised manner may however be eligible, under the Transition Assistance and Institution Building Component, for measures and actions of a similar nature to those which are available under the Regional Development Component, the Human Resources Development Component and the Rural Development Component.
Assistance is provided on the basis of a comprehensive multi-annual strategy that reflects the priorities of the Stabilisation and Association Process, as well as the strategic priorities of the pre-accession process. In order to assist with the financial part of this strategy, the Commission presents a multi-annual indicative financial framework, as an integral part of its annual enlargement package. Multi-annual indicative planning documents are established by country in close consultation with the national authorities, so as to support national strategies and ensure the engagement and involvement of the country concerned. Assistance is provided through multi-annual or annual programmes, established by country and by component, or, as appropriate, by group of countries or by theme in accordance with the priorities defined in the multi-annual indicative planning documents. Programmes specify the objectives pursued, the fields of intervention, the expected results, the management procedures and total amount of financing planned. Assistance is managed in accordance with the rules for External Aid contained in the Financial Regulation applicable to the general budget of the European Union [Regulation 1605/2002].
The Cross-Border Cooperation Component supports both candidate countries and potential candidate countries in cross-border, and, where appropriate, transnational and interregional cooperation among themselves and between them and the Member States. The Regional Development Component supports countries only candidate countries in policy development as well as preparation for the implementation and management of the Union's cohesion policy, in particular in their preparation for the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund. The Human Resources Development Component supports the candidate countries in policy development as well as preparation for the implementation and management of the Union's cohesion policy, in particular in their preparation for the European Social Fund. The Rural Development Component supports candidate countries in policy development as well as preparation for the implementation and management of the common agricultural policy.
Assistance under Regulation 1085/2006 may, inter alia, finance investments, procurement contracts, grants including interest rate subsidies, special loans, loan guarantees and financial assistance, budgetary support, and other specific forms of budgetary aid, and the contribution to the capital of international financial institutions or the regional development banks to the extent that the financial risk of the EU is limited to the amount of these funds [Regulation 1085/2006]. Assistance may also be used to cover the costs of actions linked to preparation, follow-up, control, audit and evaluation directly necessary for the administration of the programme and the attainment of its objectives, in particular studies, meetings, information and publicity, expenses linked to informatics networks aiming at information exchange, as well as any other expenses for administrative and technical assistance of which the Commission can avail itself for the administration of the programme.