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Economic accession criteria

The Copenhagen economic accession criteria approved by the European Council in 1993 are twofold: they require acceding countries to be (i) functioning market economies, and (ii) to have, by the date of accession, the capacity to cope with competition and market forces within the EU. In the Commission, the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs monitors and assesses the candidate countries' progress in complying with these two criteria.

The Copenhagen criteria

In 1993, the Copenhagen European Council identified the economic and political requirements candidate countries will need to fulfil to join the EU. It also concluded that accession could take place as soon as they were capable of fulfilling them.

The criteria are:

  • the political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • the economic criteria: the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union;
  • the institutional criteria: the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. It includes the whole range of policies and measures that constitute the acquis of the Union that candidate countries must adopt, implement and enforce. This requires the administrative capacity to transpose European Community legislation into national law, to implement it and to effectively enforce it through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.

Furthermore, the European Council of 14/15 December 2006 stressed "… the importance of ensuring that the EU can maintain and deepen its own development. The pace of enlargement must take into account the capacity of the Union to absorb new members. ... As the Union enlarges,successful European integration requires that EU institutions function effectively and that EU policies are further developed and financed in a sustainable manner."

How are economic accession criteria defined?

The Commission monitors a series of sub-criteria for each of the Copenhagen economic accession criteria:

1. Being a functioning market economy requires:

  • the existence of a broad consensus about essentials of economic policy;
  • macroeconomic stability (including price stability, sustainable public finances and external accounts);
  • a free interplay of market forces (including liberalised prices and trade);
  • free market entry and exit (including issues of establishment/bankruptcies of firms); and
  • an adequate legal system (including a system of property rights, enforceability of laws/contracts) and a sufficiently developed financial sector.

2. Being competitive in the EU requires:

  • the existence of a functioning market economy;
  • sufficient human and physical capital (including issues of education, research and infrastructure);
  • adequate sectoral and enterprise structures (including issues of enterprise restructuring, sectoral shift, role of small and medium-sized enterprises);
  • limited state influence on competitiveness (including issues of trade policy, competition policy, state aids, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, etc.); and
  • sufficient trade and investment integration with the EU.

Monitoring and assessment

The first full assessment of the state of a candidate country’s compliance with the Copenhagen criteria is usually provided by the Commission in its 'Opinion' on a country's application for membership. Monitoring the progress of candidate countries in meeting economic accession criteria is thereafter assessed annually by the Commission in its progress reports on each candidate country (currently Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey).

Since 2006, the monitoring of progress on the Copenhagen accession criteria has been extended to the potential candidate countries (also in annual progress reports) from the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia).

In the Commission, the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs is in charge of monitoring and assessing the candidate – and potential candidate – countries' progress in complying with the two Copenhagen economic criteria.