When, at the end of 1989, the pace of history suddenly accelerated with the rapid and successive collapse of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the European Community rushed to help the people of these countries, working to promote political reform and develop a private sector in their economies. Some fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin wall ten of these countries (eight on 1 May 2004 and two on 1 January 2007) became members of the European Community/Union [see section 1.2].
Although Central and Eastern European countries, finding themselves since the early 1990s in a very difficult transition from centrally planned to free trade and competition economies, could have chosen membership of the EFTA and through it of the EEA [see section 25.1], they all applied for membership to the EU, thus clearly indicating their preference for the multinational integration process rather than for intergovernmental cooperation [see section 1.1.2]. On their side, the EU Member States responded positively to this application, thus demonstrating that they did not view their successful enterprise as a club of rich countries.
Article 49 of the EU treaty says that any European State, which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, may apply to become a member of the Union. All these conditions, including the quality of ''European State'', are subject to interpretation and have to be agreed by all the Member States and by the absolute majority of the European Parliament. Moreover, the agreement on the conditions of admission must be ratified by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements, which means that if one Member State does not ratify it, it can not enter in force.
A joint action agreed by the Council on 28 May 1998 established a mechanism for collective evaluation of the incorporation into the applicant countries' legislation and effective implementation of the Community "acquis" in the field of justice and home affairs [Joint Action 98/429]. On the same day, the Council invited the Commission to take particular account of the rule of law, according to article 49 (TEU), when drawing up reports on the applicant countries preparation efforts.
The countries which request accession to the EU should, however, satisfy certain political and economic conditions. According to the criteria established by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993, an applicant country should have: (a) stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities; (b) a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; and (c) the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. The EC/EU helps, however the candidate countries to comply with the criteria for their accession on the basis of Accession Partnerships [Regulation 622/98].
The European Council of Brussels (16-17 December 2004) agreed that accession negotiations with individual candidate States should be based on a framework for negotiations. Each framework, which should be established by the Council on a proposal from the Commission, should address certain essential elements. Each candidate country is judged on its own merits. The negotiations offer countries the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to complete the necessary reforms and meet all membership requirements. All candidate countries need to accept and implement the acquis communautaire, and to adhere to the political objectives of the Treaties.
The essential elements of each negotiations framework are the following:
· the substance of the negotiations, which is conducted in an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) with the participation of all Member States on the one hand and the candidate State concerned on the other, where decisions require unanimity, is broken down into a number of chapters, each covering a specific policy area. The Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal from the Commission, lays down benchmarks for the provisional closure and, where appropriate, for the opening of each chapter. Benchmarks are measurable and linked to key elements of the acquis chapter. In general, opening benchmarks concern key preparatory steps for future alignment (such as strategies or action plans), and the fulfilment of contractual obligations that mirror acquis requirements. Closing benchmarks primarily concern legislative measures, administrative or judicial bodies, and a track record of implementation of the acquis. For chapters in the economic field, they also include the criterion of being a functioning market economy;
· long transition periods, derogations, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses, i.e. clauses which are permanently available as a basis for safeguard measures, may be considered, for areas such as freedom of movement of persons, structural policies or agriculture;
· the financial aspects of accession of a candidate State must be allowed for in the applicable financial framework. Hence, accession negotiations yet to be opened with candidates whose accession could have substantial financial consequences can only be concluded after the establishment of the financial framework for the period from 2014 together with possible consequential financial reforms;
· the shared objective of the negotiations is accession. However, these negotiations are an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand. If a candidate country no longer fulfils the opening benchmarks in a chapter that is under negotiation, the Commission may propose that negotiations be suspended on that chapter. If a candidate country no longer fulfils the closing benchmarks in a chapter that has been provisionally closed, the Commission may propose to the Member States that accession negotiations on that chapter be re-opened;
· in the case of a serious and persistent breach in a candidate State of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded, the Commission will, on its own initiative or at the request of one third of the Member States, recommend the suspension of negotiations and propose the conditions for eventual resumption. The Council will decide by qualified majority on such a recommendation, after having heard the candidate State, on whether to suspend the negotiations and on the conditions for their resumption.
The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) is the EU's financial instrument for the pre-accession process for the period 2007-2013 [Regulation 1085/2006, see section 12.3.4]. From 1 January 2007, IPA entirely replaced previous assistance instruments such as Phare, Cards, Ispa and Sapard. Candidate countries and potential candidate countries are eligible for funding under a single set of rules and procedures of the new instrument. IPA thus simplifies the transition of a country from one status to another, when this is decided by the Council. Assistance is provided on the basis of the Accession Partnerships of the candidate countries, listed in Annex I of Regulation 1085/2006 (Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and the European Partnerships of the potential candidate countries, listed in Annex II of the Regulation (Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia, including Kosovo) [see section 25.3]. The instrument’s components which finance transition and institution building as well as regional and cross-border cooperation are open to both candidate and potential candidate countries. The remaining three components (financing regional and human resources and rural development) are pre-cursors to the EU structural funds, require a high degree of financial administration capacity adapted to the EU system and are, therefore, reserved for candidate countries.
A Technical Assistance Information Exchange Office (TAIEX) allows the candidate and potential candidate countries as well as the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) countries [see section 25.4] and Russia to call upon the experience of Commission and Member States officials in drafting, transposing and implementing legislation concerning the internal market and European programmes [Decision 2006/62].
Accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey opened in October 2005 as was unanimously agreed by the Member States, providing further encouragement for political and economic reform in these countries and for good relations with their neighbours. They are conducted on the basis of clear and rigorous negotiating frameworks agreed unanimously by the Council. The pace of negotiations depends on the pace of reforms on the ground.
In September 2004 a European Partnership with Croatia was adopted by the Council and in October 2005, the Member States started negotiations with Croatia on its accession to the European Union. In October 2005, the Member States started negotiations with Croatia on its accession to the European Union providing financial assistance to the country [Decision 2008/119]. The treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union was signed in December 2011 and this country will become the 28th Member State of the Union on 1 July 2013 [Decision of the Council and treaty of accession].
Relations between the European Community and Turkey have been subject to a number of ups and downs, reflecting the political situation in the latter. The association agreement of 1964 [Agreement and Decision 2005/672] has occasionally operated normally and occasionally been put on the back burner, mainly due to democratic deficiencies in this country. Despite these problems the EC-Turkey Association Council reached agreement in March 1995 on the completion of the customs union between the EU and Turkey, an agreement which the European Parliament endorsed in December 1995, thereby paving the way for entry into force of the customs union on 1 January 1996 [Decisions 1/95, 4/95, 5/95, 6/95]. The Helsinki European Council (10-11 December 1999) decided to recognise Turkey as a candidate country. At several occasions, however, the European Union reminded Turkey that satisfying the political criteria for accession (democratic stability, the rule of law, respect for human rights and protection of minorities) is a precondition for opening accession negotiations, and that the "Copenhagen criteria" (including the application of the "acquis communautaire") must be met before proceeding with the act of accession itself. Turkey, like other candidate States, has the opportunity to participate in European programmes and agencies and in meetings between candidate States and the Union in the context of the accession process. In December 2004, the European Council agreed that the EU would start negotiations with Turkey on its accession to the European Union, but stressed that the advancement of the negotiations would be guided by Turkey's progress in preparing for accession, which would be measured, inter alia, against the implementation of the Accession Partnership, as regularly revised [Decision 2008/157].
A special regime concerns rules on goods, services and persons crossing the green line between those areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control and those areas in which it does exercise effective control [Regulation 866/2004]. An instrument of financial support aims to encourage the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community in the north of Cyprus, with a view to promoting the economic integration of the island and improving contact between the two communities and the European Union [Regulation 389/2006]. The measures are intended to prepare and facilitate, as appropriate, the full application of the acquis communautaire in the areas in which the government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control, once a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem has been achieved.
A stabilisation and association agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), of the other part, provides a framework to allow the development of close economic and political relations between the EU and FYROM [Agreement, Exchange of letters and Decision 2004/239]. On 22 March 2004, FYROM made a formal application for membership of the EU. The European Council of 17 December 2005 granted it the status of candidate country. Accession negotiations with the FYROM have not started yet. The European Council has repeatedly stressed that among the conditions of this membership are those of maintaining good neighbourly relations and reaching a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue with Greece.
Iceland (Member State of the EFTA and the EEA [see section 25.1]) applied to join the European Union on 16 July 2009. The application was accepted by the European Council on 27 July 2009 and referred to the Commission for analysis.