The Copenhagen criteria are the rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the European Union. The criteria require that a state have the institutions to preserve democratic governance and human rights, have a functioning market economy, and accept the obligations and intent of the EU. These membership criteria were laid down at the June 1993 European Council in Copenhagen, Denmark, from which they take their name. Excerpt from the Copenhagen Presidency conclusions:
Membership requires that candidate country has achieved 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. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
Most of these elements have been clarified over the last decade by legislation of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as by the case law of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. However, there are sometimes slightly conflicting interpretations in current member states—some examples of this are given below.
The European Union Membership criteria are defined by the three documents:
When agreed in 1993, there was no mechanism for ensuring that any country which was already an EU member state was in compliance with these criteria. However, arrangements have now been put in place to police compliance with these criteria, following the "sanctions" imposed against the Austrian government of Wolfgang Schüssel in early 2000 by the other 14 Member States' governments. These arrangements came into effect on 1 February 2003 under the provisions of the Treaty of Nice.
There has been much controversy about whether Turkey is a European country, on the basis that only 3% of its territory lies in geographic Europe (west of Istanbul), and its capital, Ankara, lies in Asia as well. Some observers have reflected that the perceived reluctance of many existing member states to proceed with the accession of Turkey to the EU is based on doubts over whether a country with more than 90% Muslim population can follow what many perceive to be the Christian basis of a "European" identity. There are also many other economic and political arguments that have been posed against Turkish membership. The EU began accession negotiations with Ankara on 3 October 2005. However, according to the negotiating framework for Turkey, which was adopted on the same day, the negotiations remain "an open process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand."
Many proponents of enlargement have also argued that there are extensive links between Anatolia and European history from Alexander the Great up to the Ottoman Empire, and therefore that a geographic argument is being used as a proxy argument.
Although non-European states are not considered eligible to be members, they may enjoy varying degrees of integration with the EU, set out by international agreements. The general capacity of the community and the member states to conclude association agreements with third countries is being developed. Moreover, specific frameworks for integration with third countries are emerging—including most prominently the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). This notably replaces the Barcelona process which previously provided the framework for the EU's relations with its Mediterranean neighbours in Africa and the Middle East. The ENP should not be confused with the Stabilisation and Association Process in the Western Balkans or the European Economic Area. Russia does not fall within the scope of the ENP, but is subject to a separate framework. The European Neighbourhood Policy can be interpreted as the drawing up of the Union's borders for the foreseeable future.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered the most authoritative formulation of human rights, although it lacks the more effective enforcement mechanism of the European Convention on Human Rights. The requirement to fall in line with this formulation forced several nations that recently joined the EU to implement major changes in their legislation, public services and judiciary. Many of the changes involved the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, or removal of disparities of treatment between different political factions.
The convention from the Council of Europe on this issue was a major breakthrough in this field. However the area was so sensitive that the convention did not yet include a clear definition of such minorities. As a result, many of the signatory states added official clarifications to their signature on which minorities in their country were involved. Some examples follow. Declarations made with respect to treaty No. 157. Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities include:
Many other signatories simply stated that they do not have any national minorities as so defined.
A consensus was reached (among other legal experts, the so-called groups of Venice) that this convention refers to any ethnic, linguistic or religious people that defines itself as a distinctive group, that forms the historic population or a significant historic and current minority in a well-defined area, and that maintains stable and friendly relations with the state in which it lives. Some experts and countries wanted to go further. Nevertheless, recent minorities, such as immigrant populations, have nowhere been listed by signatory countries as minorities concerned by this convention.
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