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Enlargement of the European Union

The free movement of people and goods has been a core goal of the European Union since its inception. Photo: EUThe free movement of people and goods has been a core goal of the European Union since its inception. Photo: EU

The democratic integration of Europe has been a fundamental goal of the European Union ever since its establishment. The original Community of six founding countries has expanded to a Union of 28 states. Any European state that adheres to the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply for membership of the European Union.

Enlargement of the European Union has been a central instrument in strengthening stability, prosperity and democracy in Europe.

The accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia to the European Union in 2004 was a historical step that ended the division of Europe. The Union’s fifth enlargement round was completed in early 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania became members. Croatia became the Union’s 28th Member State in July 2013.

Basic principles of enlargement

To be eligible to join the European Union, a candidate country must meet all the criteria set by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993 (known as the Copenhagen criteria).

The Copenhagen criteria state that a candidate country must have stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. In addition, a candidate country is required to have a functioning market economy and the ability to assume the obligations of membership. A candidate country must also accept the Community acquis (acquis communautaire) and implement it with the required administrative and legislative structures.

Accession negotiations

During the accession negotiations, the conditions for joining the Union are agreed upon in detail. Community law is explained to the candidate country, and a timetable is set for its implementation as part of the national legislation. The basic principle is that new members must accept and comply with the acquis, without exception, from the date of accession onwards. Transitional arrangements may be granted only in well-founded exceptional cases. 

Based on the Commission’s recommendations, the Council of the European Union finalises the EU’s common position for negotiations. A general principle of enlargement is that candidate countries are treated as equals and the negotiations proceed according to each candidate country’s progress. When negotiations are closed on all chapters, the results are entered into an accession treaty that must be signed by all EU Member States and the candidate country. The European Parliament must also approve the treaty. Every EU Member State and the acceding state ratify the treaty according to their own constitutional procedures. Once the ratification process is complete and the treaty enters into force, the acceding state becomes a Member State.

During Finland’s Presidency in 2006, the EU decided on a new consensus on enlargement, according to which the Union must be able to maintain and deepen its own development while pursuing its enlargement agenda. The European Union upholds its commitments to the countries included in the enlargement process, while taking into account its own ability to accept new members.

Future enlargement

At present the EU is engaged in accession negotiations with Turkey and Iceland. The Union has not set a target timetable for the negotiations. Negotiations with Croatia were concluded in June 2011, and the country is scheduled to join the Union in July 2013.

The Western Balkan countries Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia have submitted their applications for membership. The membership process of Montenegro has proceeded the furthest, and negotiations with Montenegro are likely to be initiated in summer 2012. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo have progressed more slowly than the other countries.

In December 2011, the Union’s Member States decided to continue the enlargement process on the basis of the agreement reached in 2006. The current negotiations will continue and the Union will apply strict conditionality in all stages of accession negotiations. Special attention will be paid to issues concerning the judicial system and fundamental rights as well as justice, freedom and security.

Finland supports enlargement

Enlargement of the European Union is in line with Finland’s political and economic interests and is therefore a central objective in Finland’s EU policy. The Programme of the current Government states that Finland supports the continued enlargement of the Union based on jointly agreed principles. Finland supports the accession negotiations of Turkey and Iceland and the rapprochement of the Western Balkan states with the European Union.  

Link: The European Union’s Member States and the years of their accession. Photo: Europe Information, FMLink: The European Union’s Member States and the years of their accession.

For countries involved in the Union’s enlargement process, Finland advocates measures to strengthen their readiness for membership, both bilaterally and using EU instruments. Finland also promotes rapprochement between the Western Balkan states and the European Union through development cooperation. Finland’s Development Policy Framework for the Western Balkans for 2009–2013 was published in November 2009.

 The Union’s Twinning programme is a central instrument for enhancing the readiness for membership of candidate countries and potential candidate countries. Twinning projects provide a practical way for EU candidate countries and new Member States to develop and adapt their administration and legislation so that they comply with EU standards.

More information on Twinning programmes and Twinning project proposals open for the authorities is available in the section on EU funding instruments for enlargement and neighbourhood policy – Twinning and Taiex.

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