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Joining the EU — the accession process

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Joining the EU — the accession process

SUMMARY OF:

Treaty on European Union — joining the EU

SUMMARY

WHAT DOES THE TREATY ON EUROPEAN UNION (TEU) DO?

Article 49 provides the legal basis for any European country to join the EU.

Article 2 sets out the values upon which the EU is based.

KEY POINTS

Eligibility

The applicant country must comply with the following criteria.

Be 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.

Procedure

1.

Application

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

2.

Candidate status

A country’s status as a candidate country is granted by the European Council following a favourable opinion from the Commission and consent given by the European Parliament.

3.

Negotiations

Negotiations are opened following a unanimous decision of the European Council and after having received a favourable recommendation from the European Parliament.

Negotiations take place in intergovernmental conferences between the governments of the EU countries and of the candidate country. The body of EU law (acquis) 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 may also apply. The parties 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 of 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 and European Parliament throughout the process, in particular by means of annual progress reports. 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.

Accession

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

BACKGROUND

ACT

Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)

last update 10.11.2015

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