Potential enlargement of the European Union
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There are five recognised candidates for membership of the European Union: Turkey (applied in 1987), North Macedonia (applied in 2004), Montenegro (applied in 2008), Albania (applied in 2009), and Serbia (applied in 2009). All have started accession negotiations. Kosovo, whose independence is not recognised by five EU member states, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are recognised as potential candidates for membership by the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina has formally submitted an application for membership, while Kosovo has a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, which generally precedes the lodging of membership application. Serbia and Montenegro, the most advanced candidates, are both expected to join no earlier than 2022, with 2025 being more likely. While the others are progressing, Turkish talks are at an effective standstill.
The accession criteria are included in the Copenhagen criteria, agreed in 1993, and the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49). 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 EU. Whether a country is European or not is subject to political assessment by the EU institutions.
Past enlargement since the foundation of the European Union (EU) as the European Economic Community by the Inner Six states in 1958 brought total membership of the EU to twenty-eight, although as a result of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, the current number of EU member states is twenty-seven.
Of the four major western European countries that are not EU members, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland have submitted membership applications in the past but subsequently frozen them, while the United Kingdom is a former member. Currently, all four, along with Liechtenstein, participate in the EU Single Market. All but the UK also participate in the Schengen Area, which makes them closely aligned with the EU. In 2014, the EU signed Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, and the European Parliament passed a resolution recognising the "European perspective" of all three countries.
The present enlargement agenda of the European Union regards Turkey and the Western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. These states must negotiate the terms of their EU accession with the current member states, and align their domestic legislation with EU law before joining.
Turkey has a long-standing application with the EU, but their accession negotiations have stalled since 2016. This is due to the political issues surrounding the accession of the country. As for the Western Balkan states, the EU had pledged to include them after their civil wars: in fact, two states have entered (Slovenia in 2004 and Croatia in 2013), four are candidates, and the remaining two have pre-accession agreements.
There are other states in Europe that either seek membership, or could potentially apply if their present foreign policy changes, or the EU gives a signal that they might now be included on the enlargement agenda. However, these are not formally part of the current agenda, which is already delayed due to bilateral disputes in the Balkans and difficulty in fully implementing the acquis communautaire (the accepted body of EU law).
In 2005, the European Commission suggested in a strategy paper that the present enlargement agenda could potentially block the possibility of a future accession of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Olli Rehn has said on occasion that the EU should "avoid overstretching our capacity, and instead consolidate our enlargement agenda," adding, "this is already a challenging agenda for our accession process."
It was previously the norm for enlargements to see multiple entrants join the Union at once. The only previous enlargements of a single state were the 1981 admission of Greece and the 2013 admission of Croatia.
However, the EU members have warned that, following the significant impact of the fifth enlargement in 2004, a more individual approach will be adopted in the future, although the entry of pairs or small groups of countries will most probably coincide.
The 2003 European Council summit in Thessaloniki set integration of the Western Balkans as a priority of EU expansion. This commitment was made in order to stabilise the region in the wake of the Yugoslav Wars, a series of ethnic wars through the 1990s that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro are all candidate states, and all of them are in negotiations. Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied to join but is not yet recognised as a candidate while Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is not recognised by all EU states or by Serbia.
Serbia and Montenegro could join the European Union in 2025. The European Council endorsed starting negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania on 26 March 2020, and they could join after 2025.
Turkey's candidacy to join the EU has been a matter of major significance and considerable controversy since it was granted in 1999. Turkey has had historically close ties with the EU, having an association agreement since 1964, being in a customs union with the EU since 1995 and initially applying to join in 1987. Only after a summit in Brussels on 17 December 2004 (following the major 2004 enlargement), the European Council announced that membership negotiations with Turkey were officially opened on 3 October 2005.
Turkey is the thirteenth largest economy in the world, and is a key regional power. In 2006, Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister, stated that "[The accession of Turkey] would give the EU a decisive role for stability in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, which is clearly in the strategic interest of Europe."
However others, such as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, maintain an opposition to Turkey's membership. Opponents argue that Turkey does not respect the key principles that are expected in a liberal democracy, such as the freedom of expression. Turkey's large population would also alter the balance of power in the representative European institutions. Upon joining the EU, Turkey's 83 million inhabitants would bestow it the second largest number of MEPs in the European Parliament. Demographic projections indicate that Turkey would surpass Germany in the number of seats by 2020. Turkey also does not recognise one EU state, Cyprus, over the Cyprus dispute and the Cypriot government blocks some chapters of Turkey's talks.
Turkey's relations with the EU have seriously deteriorated in the aftermath of the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt and subsequent purges. On 24 November 2016 the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling for the "temporary freeze of the ongoing accession negotiations with Turkey" over human rights and rule of law concerns. On 13 December, the European Council (comprising the heads of state or government of the member states) resolved that it would open no new areas in Turkey's membership talks in the "prevailing circumstances", as Turkey's path toward autocratic rule made progress on EU accession impossible. As of 2017, and especially following Erdoğan's victory in the constitutional referendum, Turkish accession talks are effectively at a standstill.
Corruption, organised crime, politicisation of the judiciary.
Constitution needs significant reform, little federal agreement about the future of the state.
|2010-05-01 (SAA)||2008-12-15||2010-12-17||2012-06-29||2013-06-27||3/33 of 33||
Work on bringing financial and budgetary provisions in line with the acquis is still at an early stage.
Disputes with Bulgaria, concerns about democracy and rule of law.
|2013-09-01 (SAA)||2009-12-22||2012-03-01||2014-01-21||2015-03-24||2/18 of 34||
Ongoing dispute over Kosovo, little progress in fighting corruption.
|1987-04-14||1999-12-12||2005-10-03||2006-10-13||1/16 of 33||The Cyprus dispute, among other issues. Planned Turkish policies may violate the Copenhagen criteria of eligibility for membership. Human rights abuses have become a serious problem. 14 chapters have had negotiations frozen since the late 2000s. A 2018 EU statement indicates that there will be no further chapters opened in the foreseeable future.|
- Excluding Chapters 34 (Institutions) and 35 (Other Issues) since these are not legislation chapters.
|Situation of policy area at the start of membership negotiations (Turkey, reference states), at candidate status recommendation (North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia) or membership application opinion (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina); according to the 1992 Opinion, 1997 Opinions, 1999 Reports, 2005 Reports, 2010 Opinion, 2010 Reports, 2011 Reports and the 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina Analytical Report.|
s – screening of the chapter
generally already applies the acquis
no major difficulties expected
further efforts needed
non-acquis chapter - nothing to adopt
considerable efforts needed
very hard to adopt
situation totally incompatible with EU acquis
- Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo is currently recognized as an independent state by 98 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 113 UN member states recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition. The European Union remains divided on its policy towards Kosovo, with five EU member states not recognizing its independence.
- EU Association Agreement type: Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) for the Western Balkans states participating in the Stabilisation and Association process of the EU (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo through the STM); Association Agreement and Customs Union for Turkey; European Economic Area (EEA) for Iceland and Finland (reference state of the Fourth Enlargement); Europe Agreement for the reference states of the Fifth Enlargement.
- Montenegro started negotiations in November 2005 while a part of Serbia and Montenegro. Separate technical negotiations were conducted regarding issues of sub-state organizational competency. A mandate for direct negotiations with Montenegro was established in July 2006. Direct negotiations were initiated on 26 September 2006 and concluded on 1 December 2006.
- Serbia started negotiations in November 2005 while part of Serbia and Montenegro, with a modified mandate from July 2006.
- Including anti-discrimination and equal opportunities for men and women.
States not on the agenda
The Maastricht Treaty (Article 49) states that any European country (as defined by a European Council assessment) that is committed to democracy may apply for membership in the European Union. In addition to European states, other countries have also been speculated or proposed as future members of the EU.
States in western Europe who have chosen, for various reasons, not to become full members of the EU have integrated with it to different extents according to their circumstances. Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein participate directly in the single market via the European Economic Area, Switzerland does so via bilateral treaties and the other European microstates (Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City) have specific agreements with the EU and neighbouring countries, including their use of the euro as their currency. Most of these countries are also part of the Schengen Area. While this integration is designed as a substitute for full membership, there are ongoing debates in a number of these countries as to whether they should join as full members. Three (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) have all previously had live applications to join the EU which have been withdrawn or otherwise frozen. Such applications could be resubmitted in the event of a change in the political landscape.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine ratified an Association Agreement with the EU and the European Parliament passed a resolution in 2014 stating that "in accordance with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as any other European country, have a European perspective and can apply for EU membership in compliance with the principles of democracy, respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, minority rights and ensuring the rule of rights." They also entered the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU, that creates "framework for modernising [...] trade relations and for economic development by the opening of markets via the progressive removal of customs tariffs and quotas, and by an extensive harmonisation of laws, norms and regulations in various trade-related sectors, creating the conditions for aligning key sectors" of their economies with EU standards. However, the EU did not expand further into the post-Soviet space in the 2010s.
- Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are transcontinental states. These countries are not on the agenda of the EU to be members, nor their own. See: Azerbaijan–European Union relations and Kazakhstan–European Union relations.
- Cape Verde and Israel are non-European countries with close historical and political relations with the EU. See: Cape Verde–European Union relations and Israel–European Union relations.
- Australia and Canada are non-European countries with values, culture, trade and politics closely linked with European ones. The membership of both countries has been proposed due to this. See: Australia–European Union relations and Canada–European Union relations.
Internal enlargement is the process of new member states arising from the break-up of or secession from an existing member state. There have been and are a number of active separatist movements within member states (for example in Catalonia and Flanders) but there are no clear agreements, treaties or precedents covering the scenario of an existing EU member state breaking into two or more states, both of which wish to remain EU member states. The question is whether one state is a successor and one a new applicant or, alternatively, both are new states which must be admitted to the EU.
In some cases, a region desires to leave its state and the EU, namely those regions wishing to join Switzerland. But most, namely the two movements who have had referendums within the 2010s, Scotland and Catalonia, see their future as independent states within the EU. This results in great interest on whether, once independent, they would retain EU membership or conversely whether they would have to re-apply. In the later case, since new members must be approved unanimously, any other state which has an interest in blocking their membership to deter similar independence movements could do so. Additionally, it is unclear whether the successor state would retain any opt-outs that the parent state was entitled to.
- Opinions on membership
- European Commission
- Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission: “If there were to be a ‘yes’ vote in favour of Catalan independence, then we will respect that opinion. But Catalonia will not be able to be an EU member state on the day after such a vote.” This was repeated in October in an official press release: "We [...] reiterate the legal position held by this Commission as well as by its predecessors. If a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish Constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union."
- Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (2004-2014), stated in 2012 in the context of the 2014 referendum for independence in Scotland, that any new independent country would have to apply for membership and negotiate its terms, but that the rest of the original country would not have to re-negotiate its position and would continue its membership. In 2014 he said that it would have been 'very difficult' for an independent Scotland to join the EU, 'if not impossible', because of the difficulty of getting the approval of all member states, particularly Spain, which fears a possible secession of Catalonia and has blocked Kosovo's accession to the EU.
- Joaquin Almunia (Spanish, being at the time an EU Commissioner) in 2013 claimed that Catalonia would have to apply for EU membership in the event of secession from Spain.
- Government of Spain
- Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said in November 2013 that an independent Scotland's entry to the EU would require the consent of all existing members and that an independent Scotland or other regions gaining independence, taken as a reference to Catalonia, would end up outside of the EU.
- Spanish Foreign Minister José Garcia-Margallo, having said in February 2012 that Spain would not veto Scottish accession to the EU, provided Scottish independence had UK agreement (thus making it different from Catalan independence),
- Government of the United Kingdom
- The United Kingdom was a member of the European Union when Scotland held its 2014 independence referendum. The UK Government's legal advice on the issue was that 'Since the [remainder of the UK] would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue', while speculating that 'On the face of it, Scotland would be required to accede to the EU as a new state, which would require negotiations on the terms of its membership ...', but that 'Scotland's position within the EU is likely to be shaped more by any agreements between the parties than by pre-existing principles of EU law.' Without any formal process for handling the breakup of any member state, the European Commission offered, if requested by a member state, to provide an official view on the EU's position on Scottish EU membership in the event of its independence from the UK. The Scottish Government requested that UK Prime Minister David Cameron place this request, but such a request was not made.
- Scottish Government
- Referendum campaigns
- Yes Scotland: The "Yes" campaign, led by Blair Jenkins, argued that Scotland would continue as a member state following a Yes vote as Scotland would remain compliant with all EU Principles as outlined in TEU Article 2 and there are no provisions to exclude a state in the existing EU agreements. During the period between a Yes vote and formal independence, the Scottish Government could engage in negotiations, from within the EU, on the terms of their continuing membership in the EU. Several EU heads of state expressed their opinion that this position was reasonable, as did James Crawford, co-author of the UK government's legal advice on the issue. In an interview on BBC Radio, asked if the timescale of 18 months for EU and other treaty organisation was possible, Crawford replied that he felt the timescale was reasonable. However, there was no official comment on this view from the EU Commission. The Scottish Government and the Yes Campaign both declared that continuation of membership in the EU is their preference.
- Better Together: The "No" campaign, led by Alistair Darling, argued that any vote for independence would have automatically placed Scotland out of the EU as a new state, and Scotland would have had to renegotiate entry.
The Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 was the first occasion the EU was faced with the potential breakup of a member state, and one where a newly independent state wished to retain its EU membership. While the UK's withdrawal from the EU also took Scotland out of the EU, the debates in the referendum campaign may inform other future scenarios.
On 1 October 2017, the Catalan government held a referendum on independence, which had been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain, with potential polling stations being cordoned off by riot police. The subsequent events constituted a political crisis for Catalonia. The EU's position is to keep distance from the crisis while supporting Spain's territorial integrity and constitution. While the debate around Scotland's referendum may inform the Catalan crisis, Catalonia is in a distinct situation from Scotland whereby the central government does not recognise the legitimacy of any independence declaration from Catalonia. If Spain does not recognise the independence of a Catalan state, Catalonia cannot separately join the EU and it is still recognised as part of Spain's EU membership.
There is an active movement towards Flemish independence, or union with the Netherlands, with the future status of Wallonia and Brussels (the de facto capital of the EU) unclear as viable political states, perhaps producing a unique situation from Scotland and Catalonia. There are various proposals for what should happen to the city, ranging from staying part of the Belgian rump state, to joining the hypothetical Flemish state, to becoming a separate political entity.
Member state expansion
Officially, the island nation of Cyprus is part of the European Union, under the de jure sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and thus of the European Union, and were entitled to vote in the 2004 European Parliament election (though only a few hundred registered). The EU's acquis communautaire is suspended indefinitely in the northern third of the island, which has remained outside the control of the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish invasion of 1974. The Greek Cypriot community rejected the Annan Plan for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute in a referendum on 24 April 2004. Had the referendum been in favour of the settlement proposal, the island (excluding the British Sovereign Base Areas) would have joined the European Union as the United Cyprus Republic. The European Union's relations with the Turkish Cypriot Community are handled by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Enlargement.
The European Council has recognized that following the UK withdrawal from the EU, if Northern Ireland were to be incorporated into the Republic of Ireland to form a united Ireland it would automatically rejoin the EU under Ireland's membership. This is consistent with the incorporation of East Germany into the Federal Republic of Germany as a single European Communities member state.
Special territories of member states
There are multiple Special member state territories, some of them are not fully covered by the EU treaties and apply EU law only partially, if at all. It is possible for a dependency to change its status regarding the EU or some particular treaty or law provision. The territory may change its status from participation to leaving or from being outside to joining.
Danish self-governing communities
The Faroe Islands, a self-governing nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, are not part of the EU, as explicitly asserted by both Rome treaties. The relations with the EU are governed by a Fisheries Agreement (1977) and a Free Trade Agreement (1991, revised 1998). The main reason for remaining outside the EU is disagreements about the Common Fisheries Policy, which disfavours countries with large fish resources. Also, every member has to pay for the Common Agricultural Policy, which favours countries having much agriculture which the Faroe Islands does not. When Iceland was in membership negotiations around 2010, there was a hope of better conditions for fish-rich countries, but this came to nothing. The Common Fisheries Policy was introduced in 1970 for the very reason of getting access for the first EC members into waters of candidate countries, UK, Ireland and Denmark with the Faroe Islands.
Nevertheless, there are politicians, mainly in the right-wing Union Party (Sambandsflokkurin), led by their chairman Kaj Leo Johannesen, who would like to see the Faroes as a member of the EU. However, the chairman of the left-wing Republic (Tjóðveldi), Høgni Hoydal, has expressed concerns that if the Faroes were to join the EU as is, they might vanish inside the EU, comparing this with the situation of the Shetland Islands and Åland today, and wants the local government to solve the political situation between the Faroes and Denmark first.
Greenland, a self-governing community that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, entered the EC with Denmark in 1973, because it was not autonomous at that time. After the establishment of Greenland's home rule in 1979 (effective from 1980), it held a second referendum on membership. The result was (mainly because of the Common Fisheries Policy) to leave, so on 1 February 1985, Greenland left the EEC and EURATOM. Its status was changed to that of an Overseas Country. Danish nationals residing in Greenland (i.e. all native population) are nonetheless fully European citizens; they are not, however, entitled to vote in European elections.
There has been some speculation as to whether Greenland may consider rejoining the European Union. On 4 January 2007 the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten quoted the former Danish minister for Greenland, Tom Høyem, as saying "I would not be surprised if Greenland again becomes a member of the EU... The EU needs the Arctic window and Greenland cannot alone manage the gigantic Arctic possibilities". Greenland has a lot of natural resources, and Greenland has, especially during the 2000s commodities boom, contracted private companies to exploit some of them, but the cost is considered too high, as Greenland is remote and severely lacks infrastructure. After 2013 prices have declined so such efforts have stalled.
The Brexit debate has reignited talk about the EU in Greenland, and there have been calls for the island to rejoin the Union.
Dutch constituent countries and special municipalities
The islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba are special Dutch municipalities. All are Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) under Annex II of the EC treaty. OCTs are considered to be "associated" with the EU and apply some portions of EU law. The islands are opting to become an Outermost Region (OMR) of the EU, a status in which the islands form a part of the European Union, though they benefit from derogations (exceptions) from some EU laws due to their geographical remoteness from mainland Europe. The islands are focusing on gaining the same status as the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and the French overseas departments.
When Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba were established as Dutch public bodies after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles (which was an OCT) in 2010, their status within the EU were raised. Rather than change their status from an OCT to an outermost region, as their change in status within the Netherlands would imply, it was decided that their status would remain the same for at least five years. After those five years, their status would be reviewed.
If it was decided that one or all of the islands wish to integrate more with the EU then the Treaty of Lisbon provides for that following a unanimous decision from the European Council. Former European Commissioner for Enlargement Danuta Hübner has said before the European Parliament that she does not expect many problems to occur with such a status change, as the population of the islands is only a few thousand people.
French overseas departments and territories
The territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion are overseas departments of France and at the same time mono-departmental overseas regions. According to the EC treaty (article 299 2), all of these departments are outermost regions (OMR) of the EU—hence provisions of the EC treaty apply there while derogations are allowed. The status of the Overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin is also defined as OMR by the Treaty of Lisbon. New Caledonia and the overseas collectivities of French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint Pierre et Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna are Overseas Countries and Territories of the EU.
New Caledonia is an overseas territory of France with its own unique status under the French Constitution, which is distinct from that of overseas departments and collectivities. It is defined as an "overseas country" under the 1998 Nouméa Accord, and enjoys a high degree of self-government. Currently, in regard to the EU, it is one of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT).
As a result of the Nouméa Accord, New Caledonians voted on an independence referendum in November 2018. This referendum was to determine whether the territory would remain a part of the French Republic as a "sui generis collectivity", or whether it would become an independent state. The accords also specify a gradual devolution of powers to the local New Caledonian assembly. The referendum's result was that New Caledonia would remain a part of the French Republic.
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