What began as an organization to regulate the coal and steel industries in Europe, and a means of preventing another war between France and Germany, turned out to be Europe’s greatest project, succeeding to house under one umbrella 28 nations at any given time, while many more wait to join.
The European Union has a flag, 24 official languages, its main currency is the euro and, with a territory of 4,233,255.3 km2, it is home to 447 million European citizens.
Currently, it has 27 member states – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Country -Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Being a member of the EU means that your citizens have the right to live, study and work in any other EU country. This means they can travel freely throughout the bloc without needing a visa or passport. Likewise, the single market allows most goods, services and money to flow freely across most of the continent.
Countries that are part of the EU jointly deal with cross-border issues since there are common regulations in a wide list of areas, including here economy, environment, migration, etc.
EU Member States, candidate countries and potential candidate countries
The benefits of EU membership are many, and for this reason several other countries on the European continent have been trying for years to join the bloc. The last country to join the EU was Croatia in 2013.
Currently, Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey have the status of candidate countries. While Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are potential candidate countries.
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, meanwhile, are classified under the “Eastern Partnership”, through which the bloc intends to help these three countries gradually adopt democratic and legal reforms that would bring them closer to the EU.
For some of these countries, the procedures to become EU members started as early as 2005. However, becoming an EU country is a difficult process that comes with a long list of criteria to meet and procedures to accomplish.
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Becoming a member of the EU: what criteria must be met
For a country to be part of the EU, it must meet all the membership criteria, also known as the “Copenhagen criteria”. The main criteria are market economy, stable democracy and the rule of law, as well as acceptance of all EU legislation, including the euro.
“Becoming a member of the EU is a complex procedure that does not happen overnight. Once a candidate country fulfills the conditions for membership, it must implement EU rules and regulations in all areasnotes the EU regarding the procedures for joining the bloc on its official website.
Thus, before a country begins the procedures to become a member of the EU, it must be a country with stable institutions guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law, where the rights of the man and the respect and protection of minorities are guaranteed.
The country must have a functioning market economy and the ability to cope with competition and market forces in the EU, as well as the ability to effectively implement the obligations of membership.
During accession negotiations, the EU and the candidate country also discuss different policies such as transport, energy and the environment. The other two main criteria are that the candidate country is able to pay the EU the sum on which the two parties have agreed during the negotiations, as well as to respect the provisions relating to the phasing in of certain rules, so that it is able to adapt to membership rules and benefits.
What are the procedures?
The normal procedure for joining the EU consists of three stages. the first stage it is when a country obtains official candidate status for membership.
the Second step This is when accession negotiations begin between the EU and the candidate country, a process which includes the adoption of EU law into national law and the preparation of the implementation of this law in the judicial, administrative and economic fields, as well as other reforms .
the third step this is when the candidate country has met all the membership criteria and is ready to join the EU.
EU accession negotiations explained
The second stage of the EU accession process cannot begin unless all EU governments unanimously agree to do so.
“Negotiations take place between ministers and ambassadors of EU and candidate country governments in what is called an intergovernmental conference», explains the EU.
The first two things that take place during this time are selection and trading positions. The screening is a detailed examination by the European Commission to determine how ready the candidate country is to become a member of the EU.
The results of the review are then presented to member states in the form of a report, which also concludes whether negotiations with the candidate country should be opened or list more criteria that the country should meet first.
According to the negotiating positions, the candidate country must submit its position and the EU must adopt a common position. For most chapters, the EU will set benchmarks to be met.
“The pace of negotiations then depends on the speed of reform and alignment with EU legislation in each country. Negotiation times may vary – starting at the same time as another country does not guarantee finishing at the same time», explains the EU.
Conclude negotiations on a country’s application to become a member of the EU
For each chapter to be closed, the government of each EU Member State must agree that a candidate has made progress in that particular area. This means that the process can only be concluded after governments have agreed to close each chapter.
Once this happens, with the support of the Council of the EU, the Commission and the European Parliament, the accession treaty is signed and then ratified by the candidate country and the representatives of the existing EU countries.
“It is the document that cements the country’s membership in the EU. It contains the detailed membership conditions, all the transitional provisions and deadlines, as well as the details of the financial provisions and any safeguard clauses.says the EU about the Accession Treaty.
Once the treaty has been ratified by all, the country becomes an acceding country until the date fixed by the treaty, when it becomes a full member country of the EU.
The new members of the EU can then have their representatives in the Council of the EU, in the Commission of the EU, as well as in the European Parliament. All three are the main decision-making institutions of the EU, which means that being part of them allows the new EU member to be part of the decision-making process of the bloc.
Special EU accession procedures for Western Balkan countries
As for the Western Balkan countries, the procedures to become EU members were a bit different for them, as they also have to go through the Stabilization and Association process. Through the latter, the EU intends to ensure their political stability while promoting regional cooperation and a rapid transition to a market economy.
“The process helps the countries concerned to strengthen their capacity to adopt and implement EU law, as well as European and international standards“, says the EU.
Currently, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidate countries, while Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are potential candidate countries.
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