European Union Enlargement 2016

Future enlargement of the European Union

European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations

EU Enlargement


The process of expanding the European Union (EU) through the accession of new member states began with the Inner Six, who founded the European Economic Community (the EU's predecessor) in 1958, when the Treaty of Rome came into force. According to the Maastricht Treaty, each current member state and the European Parliament must agree to any enlargement. This was more readily accepted with the prospect of poorer countries wishing to join; contributions from richer countries would help balance the EU budget. The most recent territorial enlargement of the EU was the incorporation of Mayotte in 2014. On 1 January 1995 Austria, Finland, and Sweden acceded to the EU marking its fourth enlargement. It has also been acknowledged that enlargement has its limits, the EU cannot expand endlessly. Since then, the EU's membership has grown to twenty-eight, with the latest member state being Croatia, which joined in July 2013.

The most notable territorial reductions of the EU, and its predecessors, were the exit of Algeria upon independence in 1962 and the exit of Greenland in 1985. There was no enlargement until the 1970s. The Council then recommends opening negotiations on "chapters" of law that it feels there is sufficient common ground to have constructive negotiations.

To join the European Union, a state needs to fulfill 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. 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). Once this has been completed it will join the Union on the date specified in the treaty. Often this will involve time-lines before the Acquis Communautaire (European regulations, directives & standards) has to be fully implemented. Today the accession process follows a series of formal steps, from a pre-accession agreement to the ratification of the final accession treaty. 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.

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.

If the Council agrees to open negotiations the screening process then begins. The EU's desire to accept these countries' membership applications were however less than rapid. The Commission and candidate country examine its laws and those of the EU and determine what differences exist. Other EEC members were also inclined to British membership on those grounds.

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.

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.

The collapse of communism came quickly and was not anticipated. 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. French President Charles de Gaulle opposed British membership.

However, with the EEA's credibility dented following rejection by businesses and Switzerland, the EU agreed with full membership. The former communist states persisted and eventually the above-mentioned issues were cleared. Turkey received candidate status only in 1999 and began official membership negotiations in 2005, which are still in progress as of 2016. 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.

These two principal forces, economic gain and political security, have been behind enlargements since. Enlargement has been one of the EU's most successful foreign policies, yet has equally suffered from considerable opposition from the start. A later French President François Mitterrand opposed Greek, Spanish and Portuguese membership fearing that the former dictatorships were not ready and it would reduce the union to a free-trade area. 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 by Cyprus and Malta helped to offset slightly the influx of large poorer member states from Central and Eastern Europe.

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. The Community did see some loss of territory due to the decolonialisation occurring in their era. These five countries were joined by Italy and they all signed the Treaty of Paris on 23 July 1952. However, with the large enlargements in 2004, public opinion in Europe has turned against further expansion. 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.

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. 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 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. 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.

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.

French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership. 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.

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 François Mitterrand initially opposed their membership fearing they were not ready and it would water the community down to a free trade area. 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 long title of the UK European Communities Act 1972.

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. 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. Equally, the EEC was unsure about which way these countries were heading and wanted to ensure stability along its southern borders. 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.

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. 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. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, that obstacle was removed, and the desire to pursue membership grew stronger. On 3 October 1990, the reunification of East and West Germany brought East Germany into the Community without increasing the number of member 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. The Norwegian government lost a second national referendum on membership.

Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey are all recognized as official candidates, and the latter three are undergoing membership talks. 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.

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 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 US also pressured the EU to offer membership as a temporary guarantee; it feared expanding NATO too rapidly for fear of frightening Russia.

The Copenhagen European Council set out the conditions for EU membership in June 1993 in the so-called Copenhagen criteria. The Western Balkan states had to sign Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs) before applying for membership.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are recognized as potential candidates for membership by the EU. Bosnia has an SAA has submitted an application for EU membership, while Kosovo has concluded an SAA which is undergoing ratification. The Western Balkans have been prioritised for membership since emerging from war during the break-up of Yugoslavia; Turkey applied for membership in 1987.

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. Iceland lodged its application following an economic collapse in 2008, but froze accession negotiations in 2013 and later withdrew their EU bid. Following the collapse of their regimes in 1989, many former communist countries from central and eastern Europe became EU members in 2 waves, between 2004 and 2007. In 2013, Croatia became the 28th country to join.


EU Enlargement. (2016). Retrieved on May 2, 2016, from

EUROPA. (2016). Retrieved on May 2, 2016, from

Enlargement of the European Union. (2016).


Brussels, May 2, 2016



ar bg ca zh-chs zh-cht cs da nl en et fi fr de el ht he hi hu id it ja ko lv lt no pl pt ro ru sk sl es sv th tr uk vi