1. The European Union (EU) has grown from six original member states to its current size of 28. The biggest enlargement occurred in 2004 when eight East European countries plus Cyprus and Malta joined. There are currently seven countries at various stages in the accession process, although two are yet to be granted candidate status. The combined populations of these seven countries totals 96 million and they are considerably poorer than the UK and the EU average. None are close to membership but Turkey is being fast tracked in the context of the refugee crisis in the Aegean.
2. The EU began life in 1957 as the European Economic Community. It was established by the Treaty of Rome, signed by the six founding members, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. It was renamed the European Union with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, by which time there were twelve member states, the original six plus the UK, Denmark and Ireland which joined in 1973, Greece which joined in 1981 and Spain and Portugal which joined in 1986. In 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden joined.
3. In 2004 the largest accession took place when eight East European countries joined Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia plus Cyprus and Malta.
4. In 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined and then in 2013 the newest member state of the EU, Croatia joined.
5. Countries are first identified as ‘potential candidate’ countries. An application for EU membership must be submitted in order to be considered a candidate country, a status that is on the recommendation of the European Commission. Negotiations do not automatically begin following an award of candidate status, but again, upon the Commission’s recommendation. Once negotiations begin the candidate country must adopt EU acquis, which fall into 35 chapters. Countries must adopt EU law and be ready to enforce it as well as undergo judicial, economic, and administrative reforms. Once the requirements of each of the 35 chapters have been satisfied and closed, the country can join the EU. This is subject to every Member State signing and ratifying the accession treaty. It must also be supported by the European Commission, Parliament and the Council. The country can then join the EU on the date laid out in the Treaty.
6. There are now seven countries at varying stages of the accession progress. Previously Iceland had requested to join but in March 2015 it informed the EU that it should no longer be regarded as a candidate country.
7. The seven countries are outlined below with a brief summary of their population, economic conditions and their progress in the accession process.
8. These are countries which are now officially candidate countries and negotiating or waiting to start negotiating and making the necessary reforms. Of these candidate countries only three are actively negotiating- Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.a)
a) Albania, Population – 2.9 million, GDP per capita $4,560 (UK GDP per capita $46,300)
Albania was identified as a potential candidate country in 2003, the government submitted its application for EU membership in 2009 and was awarded candidate status in 2014. Detailed negotiations have not yet begun thus none of the 35 chapters have been opened.
b) The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Population – 2.1 million, GDP per capita $5,460
The FYRM was identified as a potential candidate country in 2003, applied for membership in 2004 and was granted candidate status in 2005. In 2009 the Commission recommended that negotiations begin although as yet no chapters have been opened.
c) Montenegro, Population – 620,000, GDP per capita $7,380
In 2008, following secession from Serbia and Montenegro, the government of Montenegro applied for EU membership and by 2010 it had been given candidate status. Negotiations began in 2012 and twenty of the 25 chapters have been opened as of January 2016 while two have been provisionally closed. In 2015 the Commission concluded that Montenegro was ‘moderately prepared’ in its ability to take on the obligations of membership. There appears to still be considerable work to be done.
d) Serbia, Population – 7.1 million, GDP per capita $6,150
Serbia was identified as a potential candidate country in 2003, applied for membership in 2009 and was granted candidate status in 2012. In 2013 the Commission recommended that negotiations begin and by 2014 formal negotiations began and so far two of the 25 chapters have been opened.
e) Turkey, Population – 77.7 million, GDP per capita $10,520
Turkey is the biggest country on the road to EU membership and is also the most controversial potential member. Turkey applied to join what was then the EEC in 1987 and was only designated as eligible in 1997 – two years later it was granted candidate status. In total 15 chapters have been opened and one has been provisionally closed. There are considerable concerns over the political and security situation in the country. In January 2016 in return for cooperation in tackling the migrant crisis in the Aegean, the EU promised to ‘re-energise’ Turkey’s accession process.
Potential Candidate Countries
9. These are countries further away from joining and are yet to achieve the status of candidate country, at which point negotiations can begin.
f) Bosnia and Herzegovina, Population – 3.8 million, GDP per capita $4,850
In 2003 Bosnia and Herzegovina was identified as potential candidate country and in February 2016 the government submitted a formal application for membership.
g) Kosovo, Population – 1.8 million, GDP per capita $4,050
Kosovo is yet to be recognised as a state by five EU member states as well as Serbia, a candidate country. Kosovo has not yet submitted an application and thus remains a potential candidate country.
Population of Candidate Countries and Potential Candidate Countries as at 1st January 2015. URL: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=tgs00027&plugin=1
GDP per capita in US Dollars, URL: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD