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.
European Union membership criteria
During the negotiations with each candidate country, progress towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria is regularly monitored. On the basis of this, decisions are made as to whether and when a particular country should join, or what actions need to be taken before joining is possible.
The European Union Membership criteria are defined by the three documents:
- The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49)—geographical criteria and general policy criteria
- The declaration of the June 1993 European Council in Copenhagen, i.e., Copenhagen criteria—describing the general policy in more details
- Framework for negotiations with a particular candidate state
- specific and detailed conditions
- statement stressing that the new member can not take its place in the Union until it is considered that the EU itself has enough "absorption capacity" for this to happen.
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.
Article O of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), or Maastricht Treaty
, (now Article 49 TEU) states that any European country
that respects the principles of the EU may apply to join. No mention is made of enlarging the EU to include non-European countries, but precedents of turning down Morocco
's application and speaking about Israel
's closest integration as being "just short of full membership" suggest that it is not possible for non-European states to attain EU membership. However, various definitions of Europe exist so that whether a country is European
is "subject to political assessment" by the Commission
and more importantly—the Council
. The internal reasons for classification are thought to be similar (but not identical) to those of the Council of Europe
. There has been some debate about this in the case of Cyprus
. This island is geographically Asian
. However, its extensive historical, cultural, and political ties to other European countries lead many to consider it as a European country in non-geographical contexts. There is also the precedent of parts of EU member states being outside of Europe—for example, French Guiana
is in South America
and is a part of the EU, being an integral part of the French Republic
, a part of the North American
continent, joined the European Economic Community
as a Danish
dependency, but elected to leave the EEC in 1983, four years after attaining home rule.
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.
governance requires that all citizens
of the country should be able to participate, on an equal basis, in the political decision making at every single governing level, from local municipalities up to the highest, national, level. This also requires free elections
with a secret ballot
, the right to establish political parties
without any hindrance from the state; fair and equal access to a free press
; free trade union
organisations; freedom of personal opinion, and executive powers restricted by laws and allowing free access to judges independent of the executive.
Rule of law
The rule of law
implies that government authority may only be exercised in accordance with documented laws, which were adopted through an established procedure. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary rulings in individual cases.
are those rights which every person holds because of his/her quality as a human being; human rights are "inalienable" and belonging to all humans. If a right is inalienable, that means it cannot be bestowed, granted, limited, bartered away, or sold away (e.g. one cannot sell oneself into slavery). These include the right to life, the right to be prosecuted only according to the laws that are in existence at the time of the offence, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to be free from torture.
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.
Respect for and protection of minorities
Members of such national minorities should be able to maintain their distinctive culture and practices, including their language (as far as not contrary to the human rights of other people, nor to democratic procedures and rule of law), without suffering any discrimination (see also the 'Convention for the Protection of National Minorities', COE, 1995).
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:
- in Denmark: the 'German minority in South Jutland';
- in Germany: 'Danes of German citizenship and the members of the Sorbian (Lusatia Sorbs) people with German citizenship....the ethnic groups traditionally resident in Germany, the Frisians of German citizenship and the Sinti and Roma of German citizenship';
- in Slovenia: 'Italian and Hungarian National Minorities'
- in the United Kingdom Cornish minority in Cornwall and Irish Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland.
- in Austria the Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Roma, and Sinti groups.
- in Romania (Romania recognizes 20 national minorities - the electoral law guarantees them parliamentary representation)
- in Ireland: Irish travellers.
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.
The economic criteria, broadly speaking, require that candidate countries have a functioning market economy
and that their producers have the capability to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. The European Exchange Rate Mechanism
has been used to prepare countries for joining the Eurozone
, both founding and later members.
Finally, and technically outside the Copenhagen criteria, comes the further requirement that all prospective members must enact legislation in order to bring their laws into line with the body of European law built up over the history of the Union, known as the acquis communautaire
. In preparing for each admission, the acquis is divided into separate chapters, each dealing with different policy areas. For the process of the fifth enlargement
that concluded with the admission of Bulgaria
in 2007, there were 31 chapters. For the talks with Croatia
the acquis has been split further into 35 chapters.