To become a fully entitled member of the European Union, a State must first comply with the political and economic conditions known as the Copenhagen Criteria established by the European Council in December 1993, according to which each candidate must:
- have achieved institutional stability such that ensures democracy, rule of law and minority rights;
- have a functioning market economy and be able to sustain the pressure of competition and market forces within the Union;
- fulfil accession obligations and adopt the common rules, laws and policies that make up the body of EU legislation.
The EU helps these countries in their reception of the community acquis and offers financial assistance in order to accelerate their adaptation to EU standards by means of the Pre-Accession Instrument.
On July 1st 2013 Croatia officially became the 28th Member State of the European Union, following the 27 Member States’ ratification of the Accession Act signed in December 2011 and negotiations that had been launched in 2005.
This achievement was added to the accession on May 1st 2004 of ten new Member States (Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Hungary), which was the most extensive enlargement in the Union’s history in terms of breadth and diversity. Romania and Bulgaria gained membership in January 2007.
Future enlargement prospects
Italy has strongly supported the strategy of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and Turkey as a crucial political instrument for bolstering the democracy, security and political-economic stability of our borders, as well as of the Union both internally as well as internationally.
Accession negotiations were launched in June of 2012 that have already led to the opening of 16 negotiating chapters, the final four of which in December 2014, during Italy’s turn at the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Accession negotiations were launched with Turkey in October 2005, leading to the opening of 14 negotiating chapters. The Turkey-Cyprus question continues, however, to hamper those negotiations.
In the light of progress achieved in normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina, accession negotiations were launched with Serbia in January 2014. A preliminary Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo was initialled in July 2014.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was accorded Candidate Country status in December 2005; the launch of formal negotiations hinges on resolution of the issue of the country’s official name.
Albania gained Candidate Country status in June 2014, and accession negotiations could begin once the European Commission’s recommendations have been implemented.
Bosnia-Herzegovina has not yet satisfied the requirements for its submission of a “credible candidacy” for EU membership.
The government of Reykjavik suspended Iceland’s accession negotiations, which had begun in 2010, following the political elections of April 2013.