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Enlargement of the European Union

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Background Information

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The territories of the member states of the European Union (European Communities pre-1993), animated in order of accession. Territories outside Europe and its immediate surroundings are not shown.

The enlargement of the European Union is the process of expanding the European Union (EU) through the accession of new member states. This process began with the Inner Six, who founded the European Coal and Steel Community (the EU's predecessor) in 1952. Since then, the EU's membership has grown to twenty-seven with the most recent expansion to Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. A scheduled expansion in 2013 will add Croatia to the union.

Currently, accession negotiations are under way with several states. The process of enlargement is sometimes referred to as European integration. This term is also used to refer to the intensification of co-operation between EU member states as national governments allow for the gradual harmonisation of national laws.

To join the European Union, a state needs to fulfil economic and political conditions called the Copenhagen criteria (after the Copenhagen summit in June 1993), which require a stable democratic government that respects the rule of law, and its corresponding freedoms and institutions. According to the Maastricht Treaty, each current member state and the European Parliament must agree to any enlargement.


According to the EU treaties, membership of the European Union is open to "any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them" ( TEU Article 49). Those Article 2 values are "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities." This is based on the 1993 " Copenhagen criteria" agreed as it became clear many former Eastern Bloc countries would apply to join;

Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

—Excerpt from the Copenhagen Presidency conclusions

In December 1995, the Madrid European Council revised the membership criteria to include conditions for member country integration through the appropriate adjustment of its administrative structures: since it is important that European Community legislation be reflected in national legislation, it is critical that the revised national legislation be implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.

Finally, and technically outside the Copenhagen criteria, comes the further requirement that all prospective members must enact legislation in order to bring their laws into line with the body of European law built up over the history of the Union, known as the acquis communautaire.


EU map.

Today the accession process follows a series of formal steps, from a pre-accession agreement to the ratification of the final accession treaty. These steps are primarily presided over by the European Commission ( Enlargement Commissioner and DG Enlargement), but the actual negotiations are technically conducted between the Union's Member States and the candidate country.

Before a country applies for membership it typically signs an association agreement to help prepare the country for candidacy and eventual membership. Most countries do not meet the criteria to even begin negotiations before they apply, so they need many years to prepare for the process. An association agreement helps prepare for this first step.

In the case of the Western Balkans, a special process, the Stabilisation and Association Process exists to deal with the special circumstances there.

When a country formally applies for membership, the Council asks the Commission to prepare an opinion on the country's readiness to begin negotiations. The Council can then either accept or reject the Commission's opinion (The Council has only once rejected the Commission's opinion when the latter advised against opening negotiations with Greece).

If the Council agrees to open negotiations the screening process then begins. The Commission and candidate country examine its laws and those of the EU and determine what differences exist. The Council then recommends opening negotiations on "chapters" of law that it feels there is sufficient common ground to have constructive negotiations. Negotiations are typically a matter of the candidate country convincing the EU that its laws and administrative capacity are sufficient to execute European law, which can be implemented as seen fit by the member states. Often this will involve time-lines before the Acquis Communautaire (European regulations, directives & standards) has to be fully implemented.

Population and GDP per capita of individual EU member states compared with those of non-member states in Europe.

A chapter is said to be closed when both sides have agreed it has been implemented sufficiently, however it can still be re-opened if the Commission feels that the candidate has fallen out of compliance.

To assess progress achieved by countries in preparing for accession to the European Union, the European Commission submits regular reports (yearly) to the European Council. These serve as a basis for the Council to make decisions on negotiations or their extension to other candidates.

Once the negotiations are complete a treaty of accession will be signed, which must then be ratified by all of the member states of the Union, as well as the institutions of the Union, and the candidate country. Once this has been completed it will join the Union on the date specified in the treaty.

The entire process, from application for membership to membership has typically taken about a decade, although some countries, notably Sweden, Finland, and Austria have been faster, taking only a few years. The process from application for association agreement through accession has taken far longer, as much as several decades (Turkey for example first applied for association in the 1950s and has yet to conclude accession negotiations).


The following is an example of an accession process. This follows Estonia's journey to membership, as a recent example from the 2004 enlargement, however the speed of accession depends on each state: how integrated it is with the EU before hand, the state of its economy and public institutions, any outstanding political issues with the EU and (historically) how much law to date the EU has built up that the acceding state must adopt. This outline also includes integration steps taken by the accession country after it attains membership.

Estonia EU membership timeline
Year Date Event Notes
1991 20 August Independence from USSR Recognition from EU in same month.
1994 18 July Free trade agreement concluded
1995 1 January Free trade agreement in force
12 June Europe Agreement concluded
24 November Applied for Membership
1998 1 January Europe Agreement comes into force Aiding pre-integration
March Membership negotiations open 6 chapters opened
1999 17 chapters opened
2000 6 chapters opened
2002 December All chapters closed and negotiations concluded Final chapter (No. 30) was opened and closed at the same time.
2003 8 April Draft accession treaty approved by Estonian government
16 April Treaty of Accession signed
14 September Referendum on membership approved 66.84% in favour, turnout : 64.02%
2004 1 May Acceded to EU
28 June Joined ERM Requires 2 years in ERM before euro adoption
2007 21 December Entered the Schengen area
2011 1 January Adoption of the euro
1 May Right to limit migration from 2004 countries expires Only Austria and Germany applied this, the rest of EU countries abolished restrictions before 2011

Success and fatigue

Enlargement has been one of the EU's most successful foreign policies, yet has equally suffered from considerable opposition from the start. French President Charles de Gaulle opposed British membership fearing US influence. A later French President François Mitterrand opposed Greek, Spanish and Portuguese membership fearing they were not ready and it would reduce the union to a free trade area.

The reasons for the first member states to apply, and for them to be accepted, were primarily economic while the second enlargement was more political. The southern Mediterranean countries had just emerged from dictatorships and wanted to secure their democratic systems through the EEC, while the EEC wanted to ensure the same thing and that their southern neighbours were stable and aligned to NATO. These two principal forces, economic gain and political security, have been behind enlargements since. However, with the recent large enlargements in 2004, public opinion in Europe has turned against further expansion.

It has also been acknowledged that enlargement has its limits, the EU cannot expand endlessly. Former Commission President Romano Prodi favoured granting "everything but institutions" to the EU's neighbour states; allowing them to co-operate deeply while not adding strain on the EU's institutional framework. This has in particular been pushed by France and Germany as a privileged partnership for Turkey, membership for which has faced considerable opposition on cultural and logistical grounds.

Historical enlargements

Applications for accession to the European Union*
Applicant Issued Accession/
failure rationale
Albania 28 April 2009 Potential candidate
Austria 17 July 1989 1 January 1995
Belgium N/A 23 July 1952
Bosnia and Herzegovina Potential candidate
Bulgaria 14 December 1995 1 January 2007
Croatia 21 February 2003 acceding
Cyprus 3 July 1990 1 May 2004
Czech Republic 17 January 1996 1 May 2004
Denmark 10 August 1961
11 May 1967 1 January 1973
Estonia 24 November 1995 1 May 2004
Finland 18 March 1992 1 January 1995
France N/A 23 July 1952
Germany, W. N/A 23 July 1952
Greece 12 June 1975 1 January 1981
Hungary 31 March 1994 1 May 2004
Iceland 17 July 2009 Official candidate
Ireland 31 July 1961
11 May 1967 1 January 1973
Italy N/A 23 July 1952
Kosovo Potential candidate
Latvia 13 September 1995 1 May 2004
Lithuania 8 December 1995 1 May 2004
Luxembourg N/A 23 July 1952
Macedonia 22 March 2004 Official candidate
Malta 3 July 1990 1 May 2004
Montenegro 15 December 2008 Official candidate
Morocco 20 July 1987
Netherlands N/A 23 July 1952
Norway 30 April 1962
21 July 1967
25 November 1992
Poland 5 April 1994 1 May 2004
Portugal 28 March 1977 1 January 1986
Romania 22 June 1995 1 January 2007
Slovakia 27 June 1995 1 May 2004
Slovenia 10 June 1996 1 May 2004
Spain 28 June 1977 1 January 1986
Serbia 22 December 2009 Official candidate
Sweden 1 July 1991 1 January 1995
Switzerland 25 May 1992
Turkey 14 April 1987 Official candidate
United Kingdom 10 August 1961
10 May 1967 1 January 1973
* Applications to the European Coal and Steel Community,
European Communities and European Union depending on date.

Founding members

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was proposed by Robert Schuman in his declaration on 9 May 1950 and involved the pooling of the coal and steel industries of France and West Germany. Half of the project states, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, had already achieved a great degree of integration between themselves with the organs of Benelux and earlier bilateral agreements. These five countries were joined by Italy and they all signed the Treaty of Paris on 23 July 1952. These six members, dubbed the ' inner six' (as opposed to the ' outer seven' who formed the European Free Trade Association who were suspicious of such plans for integration) went on to sign the Treaties of Rome establishing two further communities, together known as the European Communities when they merged their executives in 1967.

The Community did see some loss of territory due to the decolonialisation occurring in their era. Algeria, which was an integral part of France, had a special relationship with the Community. Algeria gained independence on 5 July 1962 and hence left the Community. There was no enlargement until the 1970s.

First enlargement

The United Kingdom, which had refused to join as a founding member, changed its policy following the Suez crisis and applied to be a member of the Communities. The UK and US were concerned about France attempting to usurp US leadership in Europe and the US encouraged the UK to join to counterbalance French influence. Other EEC members were also inclined to British membership on those grounds. French President Charles de Gaulle feared Britain's US influence and vetoed British membership.

Once de Gaulle had left office, the door to enlargement was once again opened. The EEC economy had also slowed down and British membership was seen as a way to revitalise the community. Only after a 12-hour talk between British Prime Minister Edward Heath and French President Georges Pompidou took place did Britain's third application succeed. After Britain was accepted Prime Minister Edward Heath said:

"For my part, I have no doubt at all that the discussions which we have had will prove of real and lasting benefit, not only to Britain and France, but to Europe as a whole."

As part of the deal for British entry, France agreed to allow the EEC its own monetary resources. However France made that concession only as Britain's small agriculture sector would ensure that Britain would be a net contributor to the Common Agricultural Policy dominated EEC budget. Applying together with the UK, as on the previous occasions, were Denmark, Ireland, and Norway. These countries were so economically linked to the UK that they considered it necessary to join the EEC if the UK did. However the Norwegian government lost a national referendum on membership and hence did not accede with the others on 1 January 1973. Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, joined the Community with the United Kingdom at this point, as can be seen in the short title of the UK European Communities Act 1972.

Mediterranean enlargements

The next enlargement would occur for different reasons. The 1970s also saw Greece, Spain, and Portugal emerge from dictatorship. These countries desired to consolidate their new democratic systems by binding themselves into the EEC. Equally, the EEC was unsure about which way these countries were heading and wanted to ensure stability along its southern borders. However François Mitterrand initially opposed their membership fearing they were not ready and it would water the community down to a free trade area.

Greece joined the EU in 1981 followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.

The year 1985, however, saw the only time a territory had voted to leave the Community, when Greenland was granted home rule by Denmark and the territory used its new powers and voted to withdraw from the Community (See member state territories).

Morocco and Turkey applied for membership in 1987. Morocco's application was turned down as it was not considered European, while Turkey's application was considered eligible on the basis of the 1963 Ankara Association Agreement, but the opinion of the Commission on the possible candidate status was by then negative. Turkey received candidate status only in 1999 and began official membership negotiations in 2004. Currently, 11 of the 35 chapters have been opened with Turkey (with 1 already closed)

Post–Cold War

The Iron Curtain's fall enabled eastward enlargement. (Berlin Wall)

After the 1970s Europe experienced a downturn which led to leaders launching of the Single European Act which set to create a single market by 1992. The effect of this was that EFTA states found it harder to export to the EEC and businesses (including large EFTA corporations such as Volvo) wished to relocate within the new single market making the downturn worse for EFTA. EFTA states began to discuss closer links with the EEC despite its domestic unpopularity. Combined with this 1989 removed another major obstacle to the membership of EFTA countries in the EEC. Austria, Finland and Sweden were neutral in the Cold War so membership of an organisation developing a common foreign and security policy would be incompatible with that. As that obstacle was removed, the desire to pursue membership grew stronger. The end of the Cold War also saw, on 3 October 1990, the reunification of East and West Germany. Hence East Germany became part of the Community in the new reunified Germany (not increasing the number of states).

The Community later became the European Union in 1993 by virtue of the Maastricht Treaty and established standards for new entrants so their suitability could be judged. These Copenhagen criteria stated in 1993 that a country must be a democracy, operate a free market, and be willing to adopt the entire body of EU law already agreed upon. Also in 1993 the European Economic Area was established with the EFTA states except Switzerland. Most of the new EEA states pursued full EU membership as the EEA did not sufficiently satisfy the needs of their export based corporations. The EU has also preferred these states to integrate via the EEA rather than full membership as the EEC wished to pursue monetary integration and did not wish for another round of enlargement to occupy their attention. However with the EEA's credibility dented following rejection by businesses and Switzerland, the EU agreed with full membership. This was more readily accepted with the prospect of poorer central European countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) wishing to join; contributions from richer countries would help balance the EU budget. On 1 January 1995 Austria, Finland, and Sweden acceded to the EU marking its fourth enlargement. The Norwegian government lost a second national referendum on membership.

2004 Central Europe, Cyprus and Malta and 2007 Eastern Balkans enlargements

EU's enlargements in the 2000s:
  European Union Jan. 1995 - Apr. 2004
  Joined the EU in May 2004
  Joined the EU in Jan. 2007

As with the Mediterranean countries in the 1980s, the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe had emerged from dictatorships and wanted to consolidate their restored democracies. They also wanted to join the project of European integration and ensure they did not fall back into the Russian sphere of influence. The EU, and NATO, offered a guarantee of this and the EU was also seen as vital to ensuring the economic success of those countries. The EU's desire to accept these countries' membership applications was however less than rapid. The collapse of communism came quickly and was not anticipated. The EU struggled to deal with the sudden reunification of Germany with the addition of its poorer 17 million people and, while keeping its monetary union project on track, it was still at that early stage pointing the EFTA countries in the direction of the EEA rather than full membership.

The former communist states persisted and eventually the above mentioned issues were cleared. The US also pressured the EU to offer membership as a temporary guarantee; it feared expanding NATO too rapidly for fear of frightening Russia. Although eventually trying to limit the number of members, and after encouragement from the US, the EU pursued talks with ten countries and a change of mind from Cyprus and Malta helped to offset slightly the influx of large poorer member states from Central and Eastern Europe.

In the end, eight Central and Eastern European countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia), plus two Mediterranean countries (Malta and Cyprus) were able to join on 1 May 2004. This was the largest single enlargement in terms of people, and number of countries, though not in terms of GDP. The less developed nature of these countries was of concern to some of the older member states, who placed temporary restrictions on the rights of work of the citizens of these states to their countries. The movement westward of some of the labour force of the newly acceded countries that occurred in the aftermath of the enlargement initially spawned clichés among the public opinion and media of some western countries (such as the " Polish plumber"), despite the generally conceded benefit to the economies concerned. The official EU media (the speeches of the European Commission) frequently referred to the enlargement to the CEE region as "an historical opportunity" and "morally imperative", which reflected the desire of the EU to admit these countries as members, even though they were less developed than the Western European countries. Following this Romania and Bulgaria, though were deemed initially as not fully ready by the Commission to join in 2004, acceded nevertheless on 1 January 2007. These, like the countries joining in 2004, faced a series of restrictions as to their citizens not fully enjoying working rights on the territory of some of the older EU members for a period up to seven years of their membership.

Western Balkans enlargements

The 2003 European Council summit in Thessaloniki set integration of the Western Balkans as a priority of EU expansion. The EU's relations with the Western Balkans states were moved from the " External Relations" to the " Enlargement" policy segment in 2005. Those states which have not been recognised as candidate countries are considered "potential candidate countries". The move to Enlargement directorate was a consequence of the advancement of the Stabilisation and Association process.

Albania and the several successor states of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have all adopted EU integration as an aim of foreign policy. Slovenia joined the EU during the first wave of the fifth enlargement on 1 May 2004. Croatia is expected to join on July 1, 2013 upon ratification of the 2011 Accession Treaty by all other EU countries. Croatia and the European Parliament have already ratified this treaty.


# Official name Date Community countries and OMR Associated territories Excluded territories
1 ECSC Foundation 1952-07-23 Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Saarland, Italy, West Germany, West Berlin Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Tunis, Morocco, Guinea, French Cameroon, Togo, Mali, Senegal, Madagascar, DR Congo, Italian Somaliland, Benin, Niger, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, Burundi, Rwanda, Netherlands New Guinea, Algeria, Comoros, Suriname, French Somaliland, French-administration of Vanuatu, West Berlin, Réunion, French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Mayotte, St.Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean, Netherlands Antilles
1953–1957 the above, Saarland joined West Germany the above without the newly independent: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Tunis, Morocco
2 EEC and EURATOM Foundation 1958-01-01 the above, Algeria, Réunion, French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe Guinea, French Cameroon, Togo, Mali, Senegal, Madagascar, DR Congo, Italian Somaliland, Benin, Niger, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, Burundi, Rwanda, Netherlands New Guinea, Comoros, French Somaliland, Mayotte, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean Suriname, Netherlands Antilles, West Berlin
1958–1962 the above the above, without the newly independent: Guinea, French Cameroon, Togo, Mali, Senegal, Madagascar, DR Congo, Italian Somaliland, Benin, Niger, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, Burundi, Rwanda, Netherlands New Guinea the above
1962-07-03 the above, without the newly independent: Algeria the above the above
1962-09-01 the above the above, with Suriname the above, without Suriname
Netherlands Antilles Association Convention 1964-10-1 the above the above, with the Netherlands Antilles the above, without the Netherlands Antilles
3 First Enlargement 1973-01-01 the above, Ireland, United Kingdom, Gibraltar, Denmark, Greenland the above, Bahamas, Grenada, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Dominica, St. Lucia, Kiribati, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Vanuatu, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Brunei, St. Helena, the Pitcairn Islands, the Falkland Islands, the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Anguilla, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda the above, the Faroe Islands, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong
1973–1980 the above the above without the newly independent Bahamas, Grenada, Seychelles, the Solomon Islands, Suriname, Tuvalu, Dominica, St. Lucia, Kiribati, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Vanuatu, Comoros and French Somaliland the above without the newly independent Zimbabwe
4 Second Enlargement 1981-01-01 the above, Greece the above the above
1981–1984 the above the above without the newly independent Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and Brunei the above
1985-01-01 the above without Greenland the above, Greenland the above
5 Third Enlargement 1986-01-01 the above, Spain, Portugal, Azores, Madeira, Plazas de soberanía the above, with Aruba, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles the above, Macao, East Timor
1990-10-03 the above, East Germany and West Berlin join to form Germany the above the above without West Berlin
6 Fourth Enlargement 1995-01-01 the above, Austria, Sweden, Finland the above the above
1997-07-01 the above the above the above, without Hong Kong (transferred to China)
7 1999-05-01 the above, Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean the above, without Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean the above
1999-12-20 the above the above the above, without Macao (transferred to China)
2002-05-20 the above the above the above, without the newly independent East Timor
8 Fifth Enlargement 2004-05-01 the above, Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Akrotiri and Dhekelia the above the above without Akrotiri and Dhekelia
9 2007-01-01 the above, Bulgaria, Romania the above the above
10 2007-02-22 the above, Clipperton, without Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean the above, Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean, without Clipperton the above
2010-10-10 the above the above, without the now-dissolved Netherlands Antilles, with Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba the above
2012-01-01 the above without Saint Barthélemy the above, Saint Barthélemy the above
11 Sixth Enlargement
2013-07-01 the above, Croatia the above the above
12 2014-01-01 the above, Mayotte the above, without Mayotte the above


Bulgaria Finland Cyprus Accession of Spain to the European Union Accession of Portugal to the European Union Accession of Greece to the European Union Denmark United Kingdom – European Union relations Republic of Ireland

Future enlargement

  Member states
  Acceding: Croatia
  Candidates: Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey
  Application submitted: Albania
  Recognised by the EU as potential candidates which have not yet applied for membership: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo ( status disputed).

Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty (as amended) says that any European state that respects the "principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law", may apply to join the Union. The Copenhagen European Council set out the conditions for EU membership in June 1993 in the so-called Copenhagen criteria (see Criteria and process above for details). The Western Balkan states had to sign Stabilisation and Association Agreements before either applying for membership and all except Kosovo*, which has yet to receive approval for negotiating such an agreement, have done so.

Croatia is an acceding country and is expected to become the 28th member of the EU on 1 July 2013. It signed its accession agreement on 9 December 2011. Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are all official candidates. Albania applied for membership on April 2009 but has not yet been recognised as an official candidate. Bosnia and Herzegovina has concluded an association agreement and is preparing an application for EU membership. Both are classified as potential candidates for membership by the EU. The Western Balkans have been prioritised for membership since emerging from war during the breakup of Yugoslavia; Turkey has been seeking membership since the 1980s and Iceland has lodged its application since suffering economic collapse in 2008.

Switzerland applied for membership in May 1992 but subsequently froze their application, and Norway has applied three times but withdrew its application each time, most recently in 1992.

The EU may also acquire new outermost regions in 2015 due to the integration of three Caribbean islands into the Netherlands following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.

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