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FAQ

What requirements must countries meet to become members of the EU?

There is no checklist with a precise indication of the conditions a country must meet in order to be admitted to the EU.

According to Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, any European state which respects the principles on which the EU is based may apply for membership. There is no definition of what is meant by ‘a European state’ but, when Morocco applied to join the EU in 1987, the application was rejected in an opinion of the Commission on the grounds that Morocco was not a European country.

The enlargement of the EU on 1 May 2004 prompted the formulation of the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ concept, which is used to define the conditions which applicant states must meet in order to become members of the EU.

From the conclusions of the Presidency, Copenhagen 21-22 June 1993 – the Copenhagen criteria

The European Council today agreed that the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union. Accession will take place as soon as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership by satisfying the economic and political conditions required.

Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and 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.

The Union’s capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration in the general interest of both the Union and the candidate countries.

The European Council will continue to follow closely progress in each associated country towards fulfilling the conditions of accession to the Union and draw the appropriate conclusions.

The Copenhagen criteria are a series of political and economic conditions laid down by the Heads of State and Government of the Member States at the European Council meeting in Copenhagen in 1993.

Ultimately, however, it is the Council which decides on the accession of a country by unanimous decision after consultation with the Commission and after the assent of the European Parliament, which means that the European Parliament must approve the Council’s decision.

In outline the Copenhagen criteria can be divided into three conditions, which must be met before a decision is taken on whether a country can become a member of the EU:

1. The political criterion:

The country must have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

2. The economic criterion:

The country must have a functioning market economy and must be capable of withstanding the pressure of competition and market forces in the European Union.

3. The criterion presupposing the ability to incorporate the entire body of laws and regulations of the EU – the ‘acquis communautaire’:

The country must be able to assume all the obligations flowing from membership, including the aim of political, economic and monetary union

What comes closest to a catalogue of concrete requirements which must be met by applicant countries is the third criterion, according to which the countries must be in a position to implement all the EU’s laws and regulations.