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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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Accession criteria (Copenhagen criteria)

In June 1993, the Copenhagen European Council established, for the first time, specific criteria that the countries applying for accession to the European Union must respect. The country must be in Europe and, in addition, the criteria are as follows:

  • political criteria: stability of the institutions guaranteeing democracy, the primacy of law, respect for human rights, as well as the respect for and protection of minorities;
  • economic criteria: the existence of a viable market economy, the ability to withstand competitive pressures and market forces in the internal market of the Union;
  • the ability of the applicant country to accept obligations as a member of the Union and to implement the Community rights and obligations in its national legislation.

These accession criteria were confirmed by the Madrid European Council in December 1995, which also emphasised the importance of adapting the administrative structures of applicant countries in order to create the conditions for gradual and harmonious integration.

The European Union reserves the right to decide when it will be ready to accept new members.

Accession negotiations

Before opening negotiations on accession to the European Union, the Commission evaluates the legislation of each applicant country in order to set up a work programme and define the negotiating positions.

The official negotiations take the form of a series of intergovernmental conferences between each of the applicant countries and the Member States of the EU. They enable the conditions for accession to the EU to be determined for each applicant country and concentrate in particular on the arrangements for adopting, implementing and applying Community legislation. The negotiating sessions are held at the level of ministers or delegates, i.e. the permanent representatives for the Member States or chief negotiators for the applicant countries.

After detailed examination of the various chapters of the acquis communautaire (screening), the negotiations are started chapter by chapter. The Commission proposes common negotiating positions to the EU for each applicant country, which are then approved by a unanimous vote by the Council.

The chapters during the negotiations may be:

  • pending (open or under negotiation);
  • provisionally closed (if the applicant accepts the common EU position which notes that this chapter does not require additional negotiations).

Once negotiations are concluded on all chapters, the results are incorporated into a draft accession treaty, which is submitted to the Council for approval and to the European Parliament for assent.

After signature, the accession treaty is submitted to the Member States and the applicant country for ratification, and implies referenda in certain cases. Each Member State and each applicant country must ratify the treaty. Once the ratification process has been completed, the treaty enters into force and the applicant becomes a Member State of the European Union.

Accession of new Member States to the European Union

Accession of new Member States to the European Union is provided for in Article 49 (former Article O) of the EU Treaty. The Council must agree unanimously to open negotiations after consulting the Commission and receiving the assent of the European Parliament. The conditions for admission, any transition periods required and amendments to the treaties on which the Union is based must be the subject of an agreement between the applicant country and the Member States. To enter into force, the agreement requires ratification by all contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

Acquis communautaire

The acquis communautaire is the body of common rights and obligations which binds all Member States within the European Union. It is constantly evolving and comprises:

  • content, principles and political objectives of the treaties;
  • legislation adopted pursuant to the treaties and the case law of the Court of Justice;
  • declarations and resolutions adopted by the Union;
  • documents relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy;
  • measures relating to justice and home affairs;
  • international agreements concluded by the Community and those entered into by the Member States among themselves within the sphere of the Union’s activities.

The acquis communautaire comprises Community law, all acts adopted under the second and third pillars of the European Union and the common objectives laid down in the treaties.

The Union is committed to maintaining and developing the acquis communautaire in its entirety. Applicant countries have to accept the acquis communautaire before they can join the Union. Derogations therefrom are granted only in exceptional circumstances and are limited in scope. In preparation for the next enlargement, candidate countries have to transpose the acquis communautaire into their national legislation and apply it immediately on accession.

Agencies of the European Union

The agencies of the European Union are bodies subject to European public law with their own legal personality. They were established under Community secondary legislation with a view to carrying out a specific technical, scientific or managerial task.

The first agencies were set up during the 1970s, but most of them started their activities following a decision by the Brussels European Council in October 1993, which decided the locations for seven agencies. The most recent agencies are the European Food Safety Authority (January 2002), the European Maritime Safety Agency (August 2002), the European Aviation Safety Agency (September 2002) and the European Network and Information Security Agency (March 2004).

Sixteen organisations currently meet the definition of a Community agency, even if the terms used to designate them (Centre, Foundation, Agency, Office, Monitoring Centre) are different.

As autonomous bodies, agencies constitute a heterogeneous group united by a single organisational model depending on their mandates and their partner or client group. The agencies can be divided into four sub-groups, determined by their work.

Agencies facilitating the operation of the internal market:

  • OHIM (Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market), located in Alicante;
  • CPVO (Community Plant Variety Office), located in Angers;
  • EAEMP (European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products), located in London;
  • EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), located in Parma;
  • EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency), located in Lisbon;
  • EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), located in Cologne;
  • ENISA (European Network and Information Security Agency), located in Heraklion.


  • EEA (European Environment Agency), located in Copenhagen;
  • EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), located in Lisbon;
  • EUMC (European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia), located in Vienna.

Agencies intended to promote social dialogue at European level:

  • CEDEFOP (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training), located in Thessalonika;
  • EUROFOUND (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions), located in Dublin;
  • EAHS (European Agency for Health and Safety at Work), located in Bilbao.

Agencies implementing programmes and tasks for the European Union in their respective domain of expertise:

  • ETF (European Training Foundation), located in Turin;
  • TCBEU (Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union), located in Luxembourg;
  • EAR (European Agency for Reconstruction), located in Thessalonika.

Agenda 2000

Agenda 2000 is an action programme adopted by the European Commission on 15 July 1997. It is the Commission’s response to requests from the Madrid European Council in December 1995 to submit a general document on enlargement, the reform of the common policies and a communication on the Union’s future financial framework after 31 December 1999. The Commission’s opinions on the countries that have applied for Union membership are attached to this document, which raises all the issues the European Union will face at the start of the 21st century. Agenda 2000 comprises three sections:

  • the first addresses the question of the European Union’s internal operation, particularly the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Economic and Social Cohesion Policy. It also contains recommendations on how to face the challenge of enlargement under the best possible conditions and proposes the adoption of a new financial framework for the period 2000-2006;
  • the second proposes a reinforced pre-accession strategy incorporating two new elements: the partnership for accession and extended participation of the applicant countries in Community programmes and the mechanisms for applying the acquis communautaire;
  • the third contains an impact study of the effects of enlargement on European Union policies.

These priorities were worked out in approximately 20 legislative proposals put forward by the European Commission in 1998. The Berlin European Council reached an overall political agreement on the legislative package in March 1999, which enabled the final adoption of the measures that same year. They cover four closely linked areas for the period 2000-2006:

  • reform of the Common Agricultural Policy;
  • reform of the Structural Policy;
  • pre-accession instruments;
  • financial framework.

Agenda 2007

Under the name Agenda 2007, the union is currently negotiating the prospects of the financial perspective for the period 2007-2013.

The period covered by the previous agreement, known as “Agenda 2000�?, will finish at the end of 2006. Therefore, the Union must define a new financial and budgetary framework based on Commission proposals. The amount and structure of the budget, the cohesion policy and the relationship between the proposals concerning the Union’s own funds, which will be determined at a later date, are the decisive elements. These are complex negotiations which must be completed before the start of the 2007 budgetary cycle (spring 2006).

Applicant countries

The economic and political stability of Europe constitutes a magnet for many European countries which can apply, as of right, to join the European Union (Article 49 of the EU Treaty).

Following the accession of 10 new Member States on 1 May 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia), four countries officially remain applicants:

  • Turkey: request for accession submitted on 14 April 1987;
  • Romania: 22 June 1995;
  • Bulgaria: 14 December 1995;
  • Croatia: 21 February 2003.

Negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania are ongoing and the objective is to achieve accession in 2007. In 2004, the European Council decided to start accession negotiations with Croatia following a positive opinion from the Commission. Negotiations with Turkey have not started yet. If, in December 2004, the European Council decides on the basis of a report from the Commission that Turkey satisfies the political criteria set out in Copenhagen, the European Union may start negotiations with that country. Hitherto, it has not received a favourable opinion from the Member States on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also applied to become members of the European Union. However, Norway twice rejected accession following referenda in 1972 and 1994. The applications by Switzerland and Liechtenstein were shelved after Switzerland decided by a referendum in 1992 not to join the European Economic Area.

This page was last modified on : 29-12-2004

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