Uniting a Continent
The European Union is open to any European country that fulfils the democratic, political and economic criteria for membership. Enlargements have increased the EU’s membership from six to 27 countries. Croatia is set to become the 28th member state of the European Union. Enlargement of the EU has helped strengthen and stabilise democracy and security in Europe and increase the continent’s potential for trade and economic growth.
Admitting a new member requires the unanimous approval of all member states and the EU must assess its capacity to absorb the new entrant/s. Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987. Given Turkey’s geographical location and political history, the EU hesitated for a long time before accepting its application. Some EU countries have expressed doubts as to whether Turkey will or should be allowed to join and propose instead a ‘privileged partnership’ but Turkey rejects this idea.
How large can the EU become?
The western Balkan countries are also turning to the EU to speed up their economic reconstruction and consolidate their democratic institutions. Potential candidates are the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, Iceland and Kosovo. Despite fulfilling the EU accession conditions, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are not members of the EU because public opinion in those countries is currently against joining.
By the end of this decade, EU membership could grow from 27 to 35 countries. This however might also require changes in the way the EU works. During the negotiation period candidate countries normally receive EU ‘accession partnership’ aid to help them catch up economically.
Public opinion among EU countries is more or less divided over the question of the EU’s final frontiers. If geographical criteria alone were applied, taking no account of democratic values, the EU could end up with 47 member states including Russia. Russia’s membership however would clearly create unacceptable imbalances in the EU, both politically and geographically.
Lisbon Treaty: Any European state may apply to become a member of the European Union provided it respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.
Copenhagen criteria: Lays down 3 criteria they should fulfil so as to become members:
Geographical frontiers and Neighbourhood policy
Stability and security are an issue in the neighbouring regions that border with the EU members regions Action for example was needed to tackle emerging threats to security such as illegal immigration, the disruption of energy supplies, cross-border crime and terrorism. So the EU developed a new European Neighbourhood policy (ENP), governing relations with its neighbours to the east and to the south.
Almost all these countries have bilateral ‘partnership and cooperation’ agreements or association agreements with the EU, under which they are committed to common values. On its part the EU offers financial, technical and economic assistance, easier access to visas, etc…