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Treaty on European Union — Joining the EU

Treaty on European Union — Joining the EU



Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union


  • 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 European state;
  • respect and commit to the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (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 Article 2 of the TEU. The Council of the EU informs the European Parliament, the European Commission and national parliaments of the application.

  • 2.

    Opinion by the European Commission

    Upon consultation by the Council of the EU, the European Commission issues an opinion on the application for membership of the EU from the country concerned.

  • 3.

    Candidate status

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

  • 4.


    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 in view of the effective organisation of negotiations. (There are currently 35 policy areas or ‘chapters’.)

    The Council of the EU may set opening or closing benchmarks for all chapters or interim benchmarks for certain specific chapters. A decision to set benchmarks is based on a screening report resulting from the screening exercise for individual chapters. A chapter can only be provisionally closed when the candidate country shows that it has already implemented the acquis of a given chapter — or that it will implement it by the date of accession and fulfilled benchmarks where such have been set.

    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 accession country or EU Member States (countries) time to adapt. This is mainly discussed during the final stages of the negotiations.

    The Commission informs the Council of the EU and the European Parliament throughout the process, in particular by means of the annual enlargement packages composed of a horizontal strategy paper in the form of a communication on enlargement policy and country reports. These documents are discussed in the European Parliament which submits its observations in resolutions adopted by plenary. Candidate countries also draw up annual national programmes in which they assess their own progress in implementing the different chapters of the acquis.

  • 5.


    Once accession negotiations have been accomplished after final closing of all chapters in a package, an accession treaty is prepared and finalised by a drafting conference of the EU Member States (countries). 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 Member States and by the accession country. Before coming into force, the accession treaty must be ratified by each EU Member State and by the accession country, according to their respective constitutional procedures.


For more information, see:


Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union — Title VI — Final provisions — Article 49 (ex Article 49 TEU) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 43)

Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union — Title I — Common provisions — Article 2 (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 17)

last update 17.01.2020