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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Joining the EU - the accession process

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Joining the EU - the accession process


Treaty on European Union – joining the EU



  • Article 49 provides the legal basis for any European state to join the EU.
  • Article 2 sets out the values upon which the EU is based.



The applicant country must:

  • be a state within geographical Europe
  • respect and commit to the values set out in Article 2 TEU, namely: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law; respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities; and respect for a pluralistic society and for non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men.

The applicant country must also satisfy EU eligibility criteria. These are commonly referred to as the Copenhagen criteria as they were defined by the European Council that took place in Copenhagen in June 1993. These criteria are the following:

  • stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;
  • the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

The European Council that took place in Madrid in December 1995 added that the candidate country must be able to apply EU law and must be able to ensure that the EU law transposed into national legislation is implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.

The EU reserves the right to decide when the candidate country has fulfilled the accession criteria. Also, the EU itself must be able to integrate new members.


  • 1.


A formal application is lodged with the Council of the EU by the European country fulfilling criteria contained in Art. 2 TEU. The Council of the EU informs the European Parliament, the European Commission and national parliaments of the application.

  • 2.

    Candidate status

A country's status as a candidate country is granted by the Council of the EU following a favourable opinion from the Commission and subject to the endorsement by the European Council.

  • 3.


Negotiations are opened following a unanimous decision of the Council of the EU.

Negotiations take place in intergovernmental conferences between the governments of the EU countries and of the candidate country. The acquis (the body of EU law) is divided into policy areas each to be negotiated separately. (There are currently 35 policy areas or ‘chapters’.)

During the pre-accession phase, the Commission monitors the candidate country's efforts to implement the acquis. It also assists the candidate countries during the process with pre-accession funding instruments, such as TAIEX.

Transitional arrangements - the parties also discuss whether (and how) some rules can be introduced gradually to allow the new member or existing EU countries time to adapt. This is mainly discussed during the final stages of the negotiations.

  • 4.

    Screening process

Running in parallel with the negotiations is the so-called screening stage. This consists of verifying whether individual items of the acquis listed in a given chapter have been transposed into the law of the candidate country. Only when the candidate country shows that it has already implemented a chapter the acquis, or that it will implement it by the date of accession, can that chapter be provisionally closed. The exception is where a candidate country agrees special arrangements with respect to a part of the acquis.

The Commission informs the Council of the EU and European Parliament throughout the process, in particular by means of annual progress reports. These reports are discussed in the European Parliament which submits its observations in resolutions adopted by plenary. The candidate country also draws up annual national programmes in which it assesses its own progress in implementing the different chapters of the acquis.

  • 5.


The ultimate goal of the negotiations is to prepare an accession treaty. The accession treaty must be approved unanimously by the Council of the EU and must receive the consent of the European Parliament. The treaty is then signed by each of the EU countries and by the acceding country and ratified by each EU country and by the acceding country, each according to its own constitutional procedures.



Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)

last update 09.05.2016