The EU maintains political and trade relations with countries and regions around the world, concluding bilateral treaties under international law with these third countries or regions. The structure of these contracts depends on the interests and objectives of the contracting parties.
Within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, there are association and partnership agreements with the EU's eastern and southern neighbours, as well as cooperation agreements with more distant countries and regions, e.g. free trade and economic partnership agreements.
Countries desiring close cooperation with the European Union can conclude a stabilisation and association agreement (SAA), which, depending on the structure, grants the associated partner certain rights and imposes obligations. The main concerns of EU stabilisation and association agreements with third countries vary. Some are for convergence on the way to eventual EU accession, such as the agreements with Turkey and the countries of the western Balkan. Others are intended to promote the economic development of the contracting parties, e.g. the "Cotonou" Agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States or the EU - Central America Association Agreement. Other agreements seek to promote reciprocal free trade by adapting the partners' legal systems to EU law, e.g. the European Economic Area (EEA) agreements with the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. They can also serve to stabilise a region in conflict.
Association agreements usually also include cooperation in the area of labour and social affairs. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs plays a role in the structuring, implementation and subsequent evaluation of the agreements in this area. So far, this has been particularly important in the association agreements with Turkey (Ankara Agreement: 1963) and all Western Balkan states (Northern Macedonia: 2004; Albania: 2009; Montenegro: 2010; Bosnia-Herzegovina: 2015; Serbia: 2013; Kosovo: 2016). Most recently, association agreements have also been concluded with three countries of the Eastern Partnership (Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova). Some of the association agreements with the countries in the EU’s southern neighbourhood have been in place for many years (e.g. Tunisia: 1998, Israel: 2000, Morocco: 2000, Jordan: 2002, Algeria: 2005). In the area of employment and social policy, the European Neighbourhood Policy is about cooperation on protecting workers' rights, equal treatment in the labour market, safe and healthy working conditions, support for job creation, especially for young people and women, and involving civil society and trade unions in social dialogue with employers and government.