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Enlargement of the European Union 

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Enlargement of the European Union 

Europe has enjoyed lasting peace for over sixty years now and stability unparallelled anywhere in the world. Since 1957 the European Economic Community with its original six members has developed and expanded step by step to become the European Union we know today with 28 member states. And other states are eager to join.

2 min reading time

Young people with an EU flag

Europe is growing together – starting with young people

Photo: Grabowsky

From the outset the Community was open to all European states. In 1951 Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands laid the cornerstone for European unification, when they founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). In 1957 the same six states founded the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in Rome. The aim was always to enlarge the Community to embrace more states.

Young people with an EU flag

Europe is growing together – starting with young people

Photo: Grabowsky

Because of the East-West conflict, the process of integration was initially limited to Western Europe. This only changed when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

Basically every European state can apply to join the European Union. The precondition is that candidate states embrace the fundamental principles of liberty, democracy, human rights, basic liberties and the rule of law. These principles are laid out in the Copenhagen Criteria, which regulate the terms of accession.  

EU enlargement round by round

1957Founding members: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands
1973Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom
1986Portugal and Spain
1995Austria, Finland and Sweden
2004Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia
2007Bulgaria and Romania

Accession candidates

The EU remains an attractive option for many European states. Several have already applied. Currently Turkey, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland and Montenegro have official accession candidate status.

The European Union began accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005, once Turkey had met all the preconditions. The negotiations have currently been put on ice because Turkey refuses to meet its customs union obligations vis à vis Cyprus, which is an EU member state.

Accession negotiations with Croatia began on 3 October 2005, and were completed in June 2011. The EC Commission has informed all EU member states, and the standard accession procedures can now be commenced. The Accession Agreement must be ratified by the European Parliament and the 27 member states. Croatia has announced that it will be holding a referendum on accession to the EU. It is expected to become a full member in 2013.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was accorded candidate status on 17 December 2005. No date has yet been set for the start of accession negotiations because of a dispute with Greece over the name of the country.

Iceland gained candidate status in mid-2010. Accession negotiations were then launched. Since the country is already part of the European Economic Area, which means that many EU regulations already apply in Iceland, the accession procedure is expected to be swift.

Montenegro was accorded candidate status in December 2010. Accession negotiations are due to start soon.

Potential candidate countries

Albania lodged an application for accession on 28 April 2009.

Serbia applied to join the EU on 22 December 2009. The European Commission proposes that the country be accorded candidate status.

Questions on EU enlargement

What are the advantages of enlargement?