European Union Enlargement Process

Founding Members


Following the entering into force of the Treaty of Rome in 1958, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) were established with six member states (France, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). The Customs Union among the six founding members was accomplished by the 1st July 1968, a year and a half before the date envisaged in the Treaty of Rome.

First Wave of Enlargement

The successes achieved by the European Community (EC) attracted the attention of other European states. In that respect, the United Kingdom (UK), Denmark, Ireland and Norway applied for full membership to the EEC in 1961. However, the application of the UK was rejected by French President Charles de Gaulle on the grounds that it was not complying with the Treaty of Rome and that Britain did not qualify for membership since he claimed that it was under American influence. UK applied for the second time on the 2nd May 1967 which was once again vetoed by France. With President De Gaulle’s resignation in 1969, the path of European integration process was opened for UK.

In the summit held in The Hague in 1969, it was agreed to launch negotiations with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. After the completion of the negotiations process; the UK, Ireland and Denmark joined the Community on the 1st January 1973 raising the number of member states from six to nine. As a result of the accession of the two founding members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) - UK and Denmark - the relations between EFTA and the Community were rearranged.  Accession Agreement with Norway, on the other hand, was rejected by a referendum which was held in the country.

Second Wave of Enlargement

Greece applied to become an associate member of the EEC on the 8th June 1959 and signed the Association Agreement -the Athens Treaty- with the European Economic Community on the 9th July1961. With this Treaty, it was declared that the ultimate goal of Greece was to become a full member state of the EEC. However, bilateral relations were frozen due to a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in Greece in 1967. After the restoration of democracy, Greece applied for full membership on the 12th June 1975, based on Article 98 of the ECSC Treaty, Article 237 of the EEC Treaty and Article 205 of the EURATOM Treaty. The European Commission prepared a report regarding its application which was published on the 29th January 1976. The report stated that due to economic difficulties, Greece was not eligible to join the European Community. Despite this statement, bilateral relations between Greece and the European Community gained a momentum and accession negotiations started on the 27th July 1976. It was believed that the accession of Greece was supported by the Member States. After three years of negotiations, the Accession Agreement was finally signed between Greece and the European Community on the 28th May1979 and then ratified. The Agreement came into force on the 1st January 1981. With the accession of Greece to the Community, the number of member states increased to 10.


Third Wave of Enlargement

Spain and Portugal made their first application to the Community in the year of 1962 but their respective applications were not accepted because of the lack of democracy and still existing dictatorial regimes. The fact that these two Southern European countries had under-developed economies and that they encountered difficulties during their transitional process towards democracy caused the slow progress in relations with the European Community.

Following the signature of a Preferential Trade Agreement between Spain and the European Community in 1970, democratic elections were held in Spain in June 1977. A month after the transition to democracy was achieved; Spain renewed its application to the Community. The application was evaluated by the Commission, and a favourable opinion was issued by the Council. Thereupon, it was decided by the Commission to start accession negotiations with Spain.

Meanwhile, Portugal entered into the transition process to democracy towards the mid-1970s, and these efforts were warmly welcomed by the EC. In order to promote sustainability of democracy, financial aid amounting to 150 million Euros and privileges in the realm of agriculture were granted to Portugal and the circulation of Portuguese workers was further facilitated within the Community. Portugal applied for full membership to the EEC on the 28th March 1977. The Commission welcomed this application and decided to start the accession negotiations. The negotiations with Spain and Portugal were launched in 1978-1979 and the accession of these countries to the EEC was realized in 1986. The number of Member States thus increased to twelve.


Fourth Wave of Enlargement

The European Union (EU) carried out its fourth enlargement process with economically more developed courtiers compared to their Southern counterparts. Indeed in Nordic countries (Austria, Sweden, Finland), democratic rule was more efficient thanks to functioning institutions. Of these countries, which are also EFTA members, Austria applied for membership to the EEC on the 17th July 1989; Sweden applied on the 1st July 1991; and Finland on the 18th March 1992.

The European Union initiated the accession negotiations with all of the three countries on the 1st February 1993. Since these three countries shared already the common values with the Member States of the Union and had already reached a high level of welfare, the accession negotiations were completed within the shortest timeframe in the EU’s history (thirteen months). However, the EC granted a transitional period for Austria for the issues related to free movement of goods, people, services and capital as well as to external relations, Customs Union, financial and budgetary clauses and competition policy; for Sweden, in addition to the subjects above, the issues related to agriculture and fishing policy and for Finland, the common issues to the other countries along with fisheries policy. With the accession of these countries in 1995, the Union expanded to Central and Northern Europe, increased its number of members states to fifteen.

The fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)

With the end of the Cold War, the EU bolstered the newly independent Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC), in their efforts to transform their economies from planned economies to laissez-faire economies and their transition from communist regimes to pluralistic democracies.

Within this framework, the first crucial decision, regarding the CEEC, was taken on the 14th-15th December 1990 at the Rome Summit. In this summit, the European Council approved a financial aid package for the CEEC. However, CEEC expected more than financial aid and trade facilitations. The CEEC underlined that steering for a “third way” outside the scope of the EU might create greater instability in the region and therefore the EU needed to further develop its cooperation with those countries. 

The EU-CEEC relations entered into a new period on 21st-22nd June at the Copenhagen Summit which was held at the end of the Council Presidency of Denmark. In this summit, it was emphasised for the first time that CEEC states could become full members of the EU. Furthermore it was ensured that CEEC states which fulfilled the economic and political criteria and membership responsibilities could join the Union. 

The Copenhagen Criteria

The criteria, known as “Copenhagen Criteria” are related to the adoption of the economic, political criteria and acquis communautaire. They were determined at the Copenhagen Summit (1993), and set out the conditions the candidate countries should respect in order to become full members of the EU.

Copenhagen criteria were gathered under three headings:
• Political Criteria: A candidate country should ensure the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights, protection and acceptance of minorities.
• Economic Criteria: A candidate country should ensure the existence of a well-functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition pressure and market forces within the EU.
• Acceptance of the acquis communautaire: A candidate country should have the capacity to implement and undertake the acquis that includes compliance with the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

Among these above mentioned criteria, the respect of democracy, rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities, are prerequisites for the start of accession negotiations.

During the EU accession process, the Commission monitors the progress made by the candidate countries regarding the fulfilment of the Copenhagen Criteria on a regular basis and publishes them in the “Progress Report”.

As for the “Accession Partnership Document”, it sets an agenda by taking into account the priorities of the measures to be taken by the candidate countries to satisfy the Copenhagen Criteria.  Each candidate country, prepares a “National Programme” in order to meet the priorities and requirements which are specified in the Accession Partnership Document in order to ensure the compliance with the EU acquis.

Agenda 2000

Agenda 2000 is another document of great importance within the framework of enlargement process. Agenda 2000 was prepared by the Commission on a special request by the Council at the Madrid Summit of 1995 and it was accepted at the Berlin Summit in 1999, with the aim of bolstering up the policies of the Union and providing a new financial framework for the EU in the 2000-2006 periods. The aim of this process which started in 1999 is to re-shape the Union in line with the requirements of the enlargement process.

Its main objectives were to reform Union policies, to encourage enlargement and to determine the financial perspectives of the EU for the 2000-2006 period:

  • Maintaining the agricultural reform by increasing the competitiveness, overseeing the environmental factors, providing the farmers with a fair income, simplifying the legal regulations;
  • Increasing  the structural funds and cohesion fund activities with projects focusing on  the specific goals and regions;
  • Bolstering up the pre-accession strategy for the candidate countries through two financial mechanisms: the constitution of structural pre-accession instrument (ISPA) to support environmental and transport infrastructures and of the Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development – SAPARD with the aim of facilitating the long-term compliance of the agriculture and rural areas in candidate countries;
  • Accepting a new financial framework for the period covering 2000-2006.

Fifth Wave of Enlargement

In the Luxembourg Summit held in December 1997, it was decided to start the accession negotiations with those 10 countries which had met the political criteria. This decision concerned the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, called as the “First Wave Countries” or the “Luxembourg Group”. For Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, which are called as the “Second Wave Countries” or the “Helsinki Group”, it was decided with unanimity to start their accession negotiations at the Helsinki Summit in December 1999.


Both at Luxembourg Summit held in December 1997 and the Helsinki Summit in December 1999 were drawn the framework of the pre-accession and negotiation processes of the fifth enlargement. At the Luxembourg Summit, it was emphasized that with the fifth enlargement, it was the beginning of a new area by putting an end to the divided Europe of the past. It was also stated that the expansion of the European integration model would constitute insurance for the future sustainability and progress in Europe. At the summit, it was stated that the enlargement was a comprehensive, inclusive and continuous process which would progress gradually according to the preparation degree of each candidate country. At the Summit, it was emphasized that during the accession negotiations which started with the 10 CEEC, Malta and Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus, their membership would be encouraged on the same criteria basis and under the same conditions.

The Copenhagen Summit held on 12nd-13rd December 2002 constituted another crucial turning point for Europe within the process of enlargement. At the Summit, the negotiations conducted with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus and Malta were finalized.

Subsequent to the signing of the Accession Agreement in Athens on the 16th April, 2003, those 10 countries became a member of the Union on the 1st May 2004.

On June 22nd, 1995, Romania applied for full membership and on July 1997, the Commission published its opinion on the application made by Romania. Bulgaria, on the other hand, made its application for membership on the 14th December 1995 and the Commission published its opinion on Bulgaria’s application in 1997. Following the Helsinki Summit in December 1999, the accession negotiations started on the 15th February 2000 with both countries. The European Commission presented a roadmap on the 13th November 2002 regarding Bulgaria and Romania’s membership in 2007 and signed an Accession Agreement with them on the 25th April in Luxembourg. Membership negotiations which were launched in 2000 with both countries were finalized in December 2004. They became full members states of the EU on the 1st January 2007. Therefore, the number of Members States of the EU rose to 27 and the official languages that were used within the EU increased to 23.
 Sixth wave of Enlargement
After its application for EU membership on the 21st February 2003, Croatia’s negotiation process, which started at the same time as Turkey, slowed down, primarily due to the Croatian government’s failure to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The capture of Ante Gotovina, who was wanted by the ICTY, gave an impetus to the negotiations process. However, as a result of a border dispute with Slovenia, negotiations were frozen again for a certain timeframe. In the aftermath of the joint decision taken on the 11th September 2009 regarding the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia, Slovenia approved the provisional re-opening and the closure of new chapters in Croatia’s accession negotiation process. Due to the consolidation of the judiciary and the de-politicisation of citizen-oriented public services, Croatia finished accession negotiations on the 30th June 2011 and signed on the 9th December 2011 the Treaty to become the Union’s 28th Member State. The EU meanwhile provided guidance to the authorities on reform priorities under the Accession Partnership. The Financial assistance, under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), is provided with 156.2 million euros to enhance Croatia’s ability to assume the obligations of membership. To this point, Slovenia stated that they will not ratify Croatia’s Treaty of Accession until an agreement is reached on how to handle the debt of the Ljubljanska Banka to Croatian customers. The signature of a bank agreement in March 2013 between Croatia and Slovenia enabled both countries to settle their disagreement.
Meanwhile due to the latest comprehensive monitoring report that emphasised the last ten remaining tasks that Croatia needed to fulfil before 1st July, speculations that Croatia was not ready for the EU membership arose in some member states such as Germany. Despite the critics, on the 1st July 2013 and after closing all chapters of the accession process, the treaty was finally ratified and Croatia became the 28th Member of the European Union.

Candidate and potential candidate countries

 Following the fifth enlargement, at the Summit meeting between EU heads of State and Government which was held on 16th -17th December 2004, it was stated that Turkey has met the political criteria sufficiently and afterwards, accession negotiations were decided to start on the 3rd October 2005. It was the conclusion of long process that had started in 1987 with Turkey’s application to full membership of the Community and whereas it had been granted the status of candidate at the Helsinki Summit of 1999.

So far, Turkey opened 13 out of 35 chapters and one chapter “Science & Research” was provisionally closed. Furthermore, the European Council decided not to open eight chapters and not to temporarily close any other chapters until Turkey fully and indiscriminately implements the Additional Protocol that expands the Ankara Agreement to all EU member states. Along with that, the fact that France and the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus prevented some chapters from being opened on political grounds constitutes a major obstacle preventing the negotiations to progress. On the 17th May 2012, the new Positive Agenda aiming to give an impetus to Turkey-EU relations was launched with the aim to keep the accession process of Turkey alive and put it properly back on track after a period of stagnation.

On the 25th June 2013, the Chapter on Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments was considered to be opened. But in due of concerns about how the Turkish government handled the protests in May and June 2013, coming from EU Member States such as Germany, Austria and Netherlands, the opening was put on hold. At Germany’s proposal, the Chapter 22 of the acquis was finally opened after the publication of the European Commission’s annual progress report in October and its negotiation began after the Intergovernmental Accession Conference held on the 5th November 2013.

Turkey and the European Union have signed a readmission agreement on the 16th December 2013. The European Union launched also the visa liberalisation dialogue with Turkey which is expected to lead to the lifting of short-stay visas for Turkish citizens in about three and a half years.

In 2013, the Funding Allocation provided by the European Union to Turkey amounts to a total sum of € 902.9 million.

In addition to  Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Iceland, Serbia and Montenegro are also candidate countries. 

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which applied for full membership on the 22nd March 2004, had been granted the status of candidate country on the 17th December 2005. Even though the European Commission suggested starting the negotiations in October 2009, Greece is vetoing Macedonia’s membership until it changes its name, which for Greeks implies territorial claims against its own northern province, which is also called Macedonia. Till now, still no solution has been found in regards to this name issue. Despite this forestalment, on the 19th December 2009, visa liberalisation with the country came into force (Serbia and Montenegro also achieved at the same time their visa liberalisation process with the EU). Its citizens gained the right to enter the European Union without a visa and the right to freely move within the Union.

At present, the Council of the EU has not opened yet the negotiations although the European Commission for the third time reiterated the recommendation on the opening. The biggest barriers will be the free movement of goods, competition law, fiscal policy and environment.

In 2013, the Funding Allocation provided by the European Union to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia amounted to a total sum of € 113.2 million.

Iceland, which joined the EFTA in 1970; the European Economic Area in 1994 and the Schengen Area in 2000, applied for full EU membership in July 2009. Following the favourable opinion issued by the European Commission in February 2010, negotiations with Iceland had been officially launched on the 27th July 2010. The screening process has ended on the 20th June 2011. Twenty-seven chapters have been opened so far and eleven of those have been provisionally closed. The chapters opened are: "Public Procurement", "Information Society and Media", "Financial and Budgetary Provision", "Transport policy”, Social Policy and Employment", "Financial control", "Energy", "Financial Services", "Statistics", "Customs Union", "External relations", "Environment", "Regional policy & coordination of structural instruments", "Economic & monetary policy", "Taxation" and "Free movement of goods". The chapters provisionally closed are the following: "Science and Research", "Education and Culture", "Freedom of Movement for Workers", "Intellectual Property Law", "Company Law", "Enterprise and Industrial Policy", "Trans-European Networks", "Judiciary and Fundamental Rights", "Foreign, Security and Defence Policy", "Consumer and Health Protection" and "Competition Policy".
Nevertheless, Iceland’s recent attempts to raise the fishing quotas in the North-East Atlantic Ocean without consulting the European Union had negative impacts for Iceland-EU relations. Sporadic skirmishes with the UK and the Netherlands over the collapse of the online Icesave savings account constitutes also a problem, but according to the officials it will not affect the process. In May 2013, the new government decided to put accession negotiations on hold which would not to be resumed unless approved by referendum. In February 2014 people gathered outside the parliament to protest the Icelandic government's backtracking from its election promise. On the 21st February 2014, the Icelandic government announced its withdrawal of the application that was submitted by a previous government in 2009.

The Financial assistance, under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), is provided with 24 million euro since 2011 to enhance Iceland’s ability to assume the obligations of membership and reinforce Iceland’s institutional capacity. In 2013, the Funding Allocation provided by the European Union to Iceland amounts to a total sum of € 5.8 million.

Montenegro declared its independence in 2006 (from Serbia and Montenegro) and had been officially recognised by the European Union. By signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in October 2007 and the Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related issues and the agreements on Visa Facilitation and Readmission on the 1st January 2008, Montenegro took a step towards full EU Membership. Upon the application of Montenegro for full membership made on the 15th December 2008, Montenegro’s official candidacy was recognised at the European Council Summit which was held in December 2010. Accession negotiations with Montenegro started on the 29th June 2012. Six months after the opening of accession negotiations with the European Union, Montenegro opened and immediately closed its first negotiating chapter on "Science and Research" in December 2012. Additionally the chapter on ‘Education and Culture’ was opened and provisionally closed on the 15th April 2013.   Still strong efforts will be required particularly on environment and justice issues. In 2013, the Funding Allocation provided by the European Union to Montenegro amounts to a total sum of € 34.5 million.

Serbia and the European Union opened up a process for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in October 2004 but the negotiations were blocked because of Serbia’s lack of cooperation with ICTY. However with the arrest of suspected war criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, Serbia has shown its willingness to further cooperate with more concrete actions. As a result, at the Foreign Affairs Council of June 2010, Ministers agreed to submit the SAA to their respective parliaments for ratification. Moreover, on the 19th December 2009, visa liberalisation for Serbian citizens entered into force. Three days later, Serbia officially applied for EU membership. Serbia received a full candidate status on the 1st March 2012.

On the 21st of January 2014 accession talks took place.  The two main challenges ahead of Serbia are its commitment to the normalisation of relations with Kosovo and its reforms in regards to the chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security).

In 2013, the Funding Allocation provided by the European Union to Serbia amounts to a total sum of € 208.3 million.

Alongside these candidate countries, the EU also declared Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, as potential candidate countries.

Among these potential candidate countries, Albania and Serbia applied for EU membership in the year of 2009. On the 9th November 2010, the European Commission published its opinion on the application of Albania for full membership. On the 10th October 2012, the European Commission recommended Albania to be granted full EU candidate status, subject to completion of key measures in certain areas.

In 2011, the European Commission also published its opinion on the application of Serbia for full membership and suggested for both countries the status of candidate country. The other two countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, did not yet apply for membership. However, with the exception of Kosovo (which is as of 2013 still not recognised as a sovereign state by all EU member states), all of the potential candidate countries were granted a Schengen visa exemption or visa facilitation.

For further information about the EU enlargement process, please visit:


Last update: March 2014

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