The European Union is based on common values and principles. Any European country that respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union. Accession, however, can only follow if the country fulfils all criteria of accession:
• political: stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for protection of minorities;
• economic: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;
• the capacity to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the objectives of political, economic and monetary union;
• the ability to effectively implement the entire European legislation through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.
In addition, the EU must be able to absorb new members, so it reserves the right to decide when it will be ready to accept them.
The entry negotiations are carried out between each candidate country and the European Commission which represents the EU. Once these have been concluded, the decision to allow a new country to join the EU must be made unanimously by the existing member states meeting in the Council. The European Parliament must give its assent through a positive vote by an absolute majority of its members. All accession treaties must then be ratified by the member states and the candidate countries in accordance with each country’s own constitutional procedures.
During the years of negotiation, candidate countries receive EU aid to make it easier for them to catch up economically. Currently, Croatia, Iceland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey are candidate countries. Accession negotiations were opened with Croatia and Turkey in October 2005 and with Iceland in July 2010. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became a candidate country in December 2005. Montenegro was granted candidate status in December 2010. Following the links, you will find interesting information about the candidate countries.