Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union states that, any European State which respects the values of the EU and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. Membership negotiations cannot start until all EU governments agree, in the form of a unanimous decision by the EU Council, on a framework or mandate for negotiations with the candidate country.
EU membership criteria
The first step is for the country to meet the key criteria for accession. These were mainly defined at the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993. “Copenhagen criteria” define the political and economic requirements for the countries wishing to join the EU:
- The existence of stable institutions which guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of and respect for minorities;
- A functioning market economy and its capacity to cope with the pressure of competition and market forces within the EU;
- Ability to take on and effectively implement the obligations of the membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
On December 2006 The European Council adopted “The renewed consensus on enlargement“. The success of the EU enlargement process was declared and the EU commitments for the enlargement were confirmed. The conclusions also endorsed the strict conditionality for candidate countries and the need to improve the negotiation process by focusing more on political membership criteria and by negotiating difficult issues in the early stages of process.
For more details: http://www.consilium.europa.eu
What is the EU negotiation process?
It is a process during which a candidate country negotiates the conditions for adoption and implementation of the whole European Union law (the acquis communautaire). Duration of the negotiation process can vary and depends on the progress of the candidate country and its compliance with the EU law.
Negotiations consist of 35 policy areas (chapters) and each of these is negotiated separately.
Negotiations under each chapter consist of:
- Screening process, where the European Commission carries out a detailed examination, together with the candidate country, of each policy field (chapter), to determine how well the country is prepared and prepares the screening report. In the conclusions of this report European Commission either recommends opening the negotiations directly or suggests setting the conditions – opening benchmarks – which should first be met by the candidate country.
- Negotiating positions – before negotiations can be opened, the candidate country must submit its position and the EU must adopt a common position. For most chapters the EU sets closing benchmarks which candidate country needs to meet before negotiations in the policy field concerned can be closed.
- Closing the chapters – each negotiating chapter is closed only when all EU Members States, on the basis of the analysis carried out by European Commission, are satisfied with the candidate's progress in that policy field.
The whole negotiation process is concluded only when all negotiating chapters are closed.
Important decisions of the negotiation process, including the opening and closing of the chapters, are officially announced at the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).
Who is involved in the negotiation process?
In the negotiation process European Commission is responsible for monitoring the candidate’s progress and the implementation of the commitments undertaken by the candidate country.
The European Commission also keeps the EU Council and the European Parliament informed about the process and provides regular reports, strategic documents and other information relating to the negotiation process.