What are European countries joining the EU

The enlargement of the EU

It is in the interests of European citizens to have countries with stable democracies and well-developed market economies as neighbors. Enlargement is a carefully managed process that supports reform efforts in the respective countries by bringing peace, stability, prosperity and democratization with it, helping to uphold human rights and strengthening the judiciary across Europe.

Since the accession of Croatia on July 1, 2013, the EU has 28 member states.

There have been seven expansion rounds so far:

  • 1973: Denmark, Ireland and Great Britain
  • 1981: Greece
  • 1986: Portugal and Spain
  • 1995: Austria, Sweden and Finland
  • 2004: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus
  • 2007: Bulgaria and Romania
  • 2013: Croatia

The United Kingdom left the EU on February 1, 2020.

Requirements for joining

In order to be able to join the European Union, the applicant countries must meet certain criteria, which the heads of state and government of the EU defined in the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993:

  • Political criterion: "Institutional stability as a guarantee for democratic and constitutional order, for the protection of human rights and the respect and protection of minorities"
  • Economic criterion: "A functioning market economy and the ability to withstand competitive pressure and market forces within the EU"
  • Acquis criterion: the ability to take on all membership obligations - i.e. all EU law and policies (the so-called "acquis communautaire") - as well as acceptance of the goals of political union and economic and monetary union

The accession negotiations are not about changing the EU rules, but about how and when the candidate adopts, implements and applies the EU rules. The pace of negotiations depends on the progress made in the individual country. It is therefore in the candidate country's interest to carry out the necessary reforms quickly and efficiently.

For the (potential) accession candidates of the Western Balkans, the EU has planned the stabilization and association process before the actual accession process, under which the countries must successfully go through a multi-stage pre-accession process before the actual start of accession negotiations. An important stage in this process is the conclusion of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) which, in addition to economic association, also provides for the adoption of parts of the acquis as well as cooperation in a large number of policy areas.

The European Commission annually reviews the progress of the candidate and potential candidate countries and publishes progress reports: https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/countries/package_en

Candidate Countries and Potential Candidate Countries

There are currently five candidate countries:

  • North Macedonia: application 2004; Status as candidate country since 2005; Council conclusions on opening accession negotiations adopted
  • Montenegro: application 2008; Status as candidate country since 2010; Negotiations opened since June 2012
  • Turkey: application 1987; Status as candidate country since 1999; Negotiations since 2005
  • Serbia: application 2009; Status as candidate country since 2012; Negotiations since January 2014
  • Albania: application 2009; Status as candidate country since June 2014; Council conclusions on opening accession negotiations adopted

Accession negotiations with Iceland have been suspended since May 2013. In March 2015, the Icelandic government withdrew its candidacy.

The European Council has promised all countries in the Western Balkans membership in the European Union. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are therefore to be designated as potential candidate countries.