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Enlargement countries

Rules for joining the EU, the application process and the Copenhagen criteria.

Joining the EU

Any European country that respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, may apply to become a member of the European Union.

It is the Treaty on European Union which sets out the conditions (article 6, article 49) for the enlargement of the EU.

Applying for EU membership

Applying for EU membership is the start of a long and rigorous process. The applicant country must meet a core set of criteria before negotiations start.

The speed with which each country advances depends on its own progress towards meeting the membership conditions. These membership conditions, the so-called Copenhagen criteria, were set out in December 1993 by the European Council in Copenhagen.

The criteria require a candidate country to have

  • stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities
  • a functioning market economy, as well as the ability to cope with the pressure of competition and the market forces inside the Union
  • the ability to assume the obligations of membership, in particular the objectives of political, economic and monetary union