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How Countries Become New EU Members: Rules, Criteria & Procedures Explained

What began as an organization to regulate Europe’s coal and steel industries, and a way to prevent another war between France and Germany, turned out to be the largest European project, housing under one umbrella 28 nations at a time, while many others waited to join.

The European Union has one flag, 24 official languages, its main currency is the euro, and an area of ​​4,233,255.3 square kilometers is home to 447 million EU citizens.

It currently has 27 member states – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, and the Netherlands. Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Being a member of the European Union means that your citizens have the right to live, study and work in any other EU country. This means that they can travel freely throughout the entire block without the need for a visa or passport. Likewise, the single market enables most goods, services and money to move freely across most of the continent.

Countries that are part of the European Union address cross-border issues jointly because there are common regulations on a wide list of areas, including the economy, the environment, immigration and more.

EU Member States, Candidates and Potential Candidate Countries

The benefits of EU membership are many, and for this reason, several other countries on the continent of Europe have been trying for years to join the bloc. The last country to join the European Union was Croatia in 2013.

Currently, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey have the status of candidate countries. While Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are potential candidates.

On the other hand, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are classified under the “Eastern Partnership”, through which the bloc intends to help these three countries gradually adopt democratic and legal reforms that would bring them closer to the European Union.

For some of these countries, the EU accession procedures started as early as 2005. However, accession to the EU is a difficult process that comes with a long list of criteria that must be met and procedures that must be completed.

>> The European Union says it will review applications from Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to become members of the European Union

Becoming a member of the European Union: what criteria must be met

For a country to become part of the European Union, it must also meet all the criteria for membership, also known as the “Copenhagen criteria”. The main criteria are a free market economy, stable democracy and the rule of law, acceptance of all EU legislation, including the euro.

“Becoming a member of the European Union is a complex procedure that does not happen overnight. Once a developed country fulfills the conditions for membership, it must implement the rules and regulations of the European Union in all areas,” the European Union notes regarding the procedure for joining the bloc on its official website.

Thus, before any country begins the procedures to become a member of the European Union, the same must be a country with stable institutions that guarantee democracy and the rule of law, where human rights are guaranteed and minorities are respected and protected.

The country must have a working market economy and the ability to deal with the competition and market forces of the European Union, as well as being able to effectively implement membership obligations.

Through membership negotiations, the EU and the candidate country also discuss various policies such as transport, energy and the environment. The other two main criteria are for the candidate country to be able to pay the amount agreed upon by the parties during negotiations to the EU, as well as to satisfy arrangements for the gradual gradation of certain rules, in order for this to be done. Able to adapt to membership rules and benefits.

What are the procedures?

The normal procedure for EU membership consists of three stages. The first stage is when a country is granted the status of an official candidate for membership.

The second stage is when membership negotiations begin between the European Union and the candidate country, a process that includes the adoption of EU law into national law, preparation for the application of this law in the judicial, administrative and economic fields, as well as other reforms.

The third stage is when the candidate country fulfills all the criteria for accession and is ready to join the European Union.

Explanation of the EU membership negotiations

The second phase of the EU membership process cannot begin, unless all EU governments unanimously agree to do so.

The European Union clarifies that “negotiations are taking place between the ministers and ambassadors of the governments of the European Union and the candidate country in the so-called Intergovernmental Conference.”

The first two things that happen during this period are the screening and negotiating positions. The examination is a detailed examination of the European Union Commission in order to determine the readiness of the candidate country to become a member of the European Union.

The results of the examination are then presented to the member states in the form of a report, which also concludes whether negotiations with the candidate country should be open or a list of more criteria that the state must meet first.

According to the negotiating positions, the candidate country should present its position, and the EU should adopt a common position. For most chapters, the EU will set standards that must be met.

The pace of negotiations then depends on the speed of reform and compliance with EU laws in each country. The duration of negotiations can vary – starting at the same time when another country is not guaranteed to finish at the same time,” the EU explains.

Ending negotiations on a country’s application to join the European Union

In order to close each chapter, the government of each EU Member State must agree that the candidate has made progress in that particular area. This means that the process can only be terminated after governments agree to close each chapter.

Once this happens, with the support of the EU Council, the Commission and the European Parliament, the accession treaty is signed and then ratified by the candidate state and representatives of the existing EU states.

This is the document that supports the country’s membership in the European Union. It includes the detailed terms and conditions of membership, all transitional arrangements and deadlines, as well as details of the financial arrangements and any safeguard clauses, says the EU in relation to the accession treaty.

After the treaty is ratified by all, the country becomes an acceding country until the date fixed by the treaty, when the country itself becomes a full member state of the European Union.

New members of the European Union can have their representatives in the Council of the European Union, the European Union Commission, as well as in the European Parliament. The three institutions are the main decision-making institutions of the European Union, which means that by joining them, the new EU member will be able to become part of the decision-making of the bloc.

EU accession procedures for Western Balkan countries

When it comes to the countries of the Western Balkans, the procedures for joining the European Union were a bit different for them, as they have to go through the process of stability and association as well. Through the latter, the EU intends to ensure that it is politically stable while promoting regional cooperation and a rapid transition to a market economy.

“The process helps the countries involved build their capacity to adopt and implement EU law, as well as European and international standards,” says the EU.

Currently, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidate countries, while Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are potential candidate countries.

>> The report states that Western Balkan countries and Eastern Partnership countries should do more to continue to meet visa liberalization requirements

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