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Countries wishing to join the European Union must meet a certain number of criteria that were established by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993:
The Commission draws up a detailed report on the political and economic situation of the country wishing to apply for membership. It also examines the country’s capacity to adopt the Union’s principles and rules, and makes a recommendation to the Council as to whether it should or should not begin negotiations for accession.
The candidate country then undertakes to prepare its accession, together with the Union, and to assume the necessary obligations within the time limits laid down. The time required for negotiations may vary from one country to another.
Four countries are currently candidates for accession: Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Croatia.
All the chapters of the accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania have been closed on the 14 December 2004. Both countries should sign their Treaty of Accession on the 25 April 2005 and become members in early 2007.
Turkey has officially been a candidate since 1999, accession negotiations are scheduled to start on the 3 October 2005.
Croatia has been a candidate since June 2004, the 17 of March 2005 has been fixed as the beginning of accession negotiations.
A range of programmes have been set up to help candidate countries prepare their entry into the Union.
Bulgaria and Romania benefit from these three programmes, which also apply to Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia until 2006.
As a Mediterranean country, Turkey benefits from the MEDA programme, as do Cyprus and Malta, but a pre-accession regulation for Turkey, dated December 2001, allows it to obtain specific financial aid to prepare for its accession. The pre-accession regulation for Cyprus and Malta dates from March 2000. Like Croatia at present, these two countries also took advantage of the CARDS programme, which facilitates participation in contracts and invitations to tender within the Union.
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