Enlargement of the EU

EU enlargement benefits both security and development in Europe, at the same time as the Single Market is enlarged and increasing trade benefits all Member States. The EU has been enlarged several times, and negotiations are taking place with several countries that wish to join the EU.

Photo: European Union, 2011

During the Danish Presidency of the Council of the EU, a number of dossiers on the enlargement area will dominate the work of the Council. Below you can read more about these matters and the EU’s enlargement policy.


Accession talks with Turkey began in 2005. Status for the negotiations is that 12 out of 35 negotiation chapters have been opened and one temporarily closed. Negotiations on eight chapters are blocked by the EU until Turkey complies with the so-called “Ankara Protocol” and terminates restrictions on direct transport connections between Turkey and Cyprus. Turkey is an important global and regional actor and a crucial trading partner for the EU. Hence, it is of great interest to both Turkey and the EU that Turkey remains on the European track.


On 3 October 2005 accession talks were initiated with Croatia. The technical negotiations on accession were completed on 30 June 2011. The Treaty of Accession was signed on 9th  of December 2011 in Brussels. The Treaty is now to be ratified by the 27 EU Member States. Subsequently – and pending the successful conclusions of the national ratification procedures, Croatia will become the 28th  Member State of the EU on 1st of July 2013.


Iceland applied for membership on 17 July 2009 and in 2010 negotiations on accession were initiated. As a member of the EEA, Iceland has already adapted much of its own legislation to the existing EU legislation. The latest progress report on Iceland made by the European Commission in October 2011 is the first report to cover a whole year. It states that Iceland through its participation in the EEA and membership of Schengen already complies with a substantial part of  EU legislation.

Western Balkans

In March 2004, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia applied for EU membership, and in 2005 the country was given candidate status, but without a date for the beginning of accession talks.
Montenegro and Albania applied for membership in December 2008 and April 2009, respectively. Montenegro was given candidate status in 2010. In October 2011, the Commission recommended that accession talks be initiated.

Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009. In its latest progress report, the Commission has recommended that Serbia be given candidate status provided that the dialogue with Kosovo is resumed and agreements are implemented. Further, the Commission recommends that accession talks be initiated as soon as steps have been taken to normalise the relationship with Kosovo.

A more stable and prosperous Europe
The enlargement process has helped change unstable countries with weak democratic institutions, minority problems and border issues into stable and peaceful democracies. This benefits the safety and security of the EU

In a global world, security is not just a question of avoiding war. Today, security also includes handling issues like the fight against terrorism, international crime and environmental problems. All these issues are cross-border concerns and affect all of Europe. This is why they are best solved in cooperation among the European states.

The EU also benefits economically from enlargement, notably from an increased Single Market, which brings an increase in bilateral trade as well as cross-border investments.

Eastern enlargement
During the last Danish Presidency of the Council, the EU Member States concluded negotiations with ten Central and Eastern European states and on 1 May 2004 the EU was enlarged with Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary.

A few years later, on 1 January 2007, Bulgaria and Romania also became members of the EU. Yet, the enlargement of the EU does not stop here, and other countries are now negotiating future membership of the EU.

In October 2005, negotiations concerning accession for Croatia and Turkey were opened, and negotiations concerning accession for Iceland commenced in July 2010.

Croatia will be the 28th Member State of the EU as negotiations were completed in June 2011.  The countries of the Western Balkans have also begun approaching the EU through a number of processes, which have EU membership as the final goal.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been a candidate country since December 2005 and in December 2010 Montenegro was recognised as a candidate country.

Conditions for EU membership
The EU requires that future Member States fulfil norms for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and that they have a functioning market economy. These requirements are formulated in the   “Copenhagen criteria”, which were established by the European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993:

  • Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
  • The existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.
  • The ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union (the “Acquis Communautaire” that covers the 35 chapters of the EU negations on enlargement).

The EU assists the candidate countries in implementing EU legislation and offers financial assistance in order to improve infrastructure and the economy.

In addition to the Copenhagen criteria, the EU must be able to integrate new members. In the EU jargon this is referred to as the EU’s “capacity of absorption”, which relates to three specific measurements:

  1. The EU must ensure that its institutions and decision-making processes remain effective and accountable.
  2. As it enlarges, the EU must be able to continue to develop and implement common policies in all areas.
  3. The EU must be able to continue to finance its policies in a sustainable manner.

You can find more information about the enlargement of the EU here