Enlargement became a core EU priority in the 1990s following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the democratisation of Central and Eastern European Countries.
There are currently five recognised candidate countries: Croatia, Iceland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia , Montenegro and Turkey . All other Western Balkan countries [ Albania ; Bosnia and Herzegovina , Serbia as well as Kosovo (UN 1244)] have also been offered by the European Council the prospect of EU accession in the medium to long term.
Six successful rounds of enlargement of the original Community of six Member States have taken place so far:
At present there are seven countries which have applied for EU membership and are not yet members:
Turkey was already recognised as a candidate country at the December 1999 Helsinki European Council.
Croatia received the status of candidate country at the European Council in June 2004. The EU launched accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey at the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 3 October 2005.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia received the status of candidate country by the European Council in December 2005. In October 2009, the Commission further recommended launching negotiations with the country. This has, however, not yet been agreed by the Council.
Iceland was the last country to apply, on 16 July 2009. The European Council granted Iceland candidate status in June 2010 and negotiations were formerly opened in July 2010.
Montenegro applied in 2008 and was granted candidate country status at the December 2010 European Council. Negotiations will however be launched only upon satisfactory compliance with a set of policy conditions.
Albania and Serbia already both applied for EU Membership in 2009. In its November 2010 Opinion on Albania, the Commission did not recommend granting candidate status to the country and identified a number of policy conditions to be met prior to this. The Council has requested a Commission Opinion on Serbia 's application which is awaited by the end of 2011.
Accession negotiations are conducted according to a negotiating framework that sets out the method and the guiding principles of the negotiations, in line with the December 2004 European Council conclusions.
The substantive negotiations are conducted in an Intergovernmental Conference with the participation of all Member States on the one hand and the candidate country on the other.
In order to ensure progress in the negotiations, the candidate countries will also need to make progress on the ground in meeting the requirements for membership, most importantly the Copenhagen criteria described below.
In order to become a Member State, candidate countries have to accept the Union's acquis communautaire - which is the body of EU laws and regulations in force in the Union. As in all previous accession negotiations, specific arrangements may be agreed. The analytical examination, commonly called 'screening', forms the first phase of accession negotiations. This process, which takes several months, enables candidate countries to familiarise themselves with the acquis, and the Commission and the Member States to evaluate the degree of preparedness of candidate countries prior to negotiations. Screening and the subsequent negotiations are organised by chapters, each covering a specific policy area.
The Commission is responsible for regularly assessing the degree of preparedness of candidate countries for accession. It delivers its assessment in progress reports published annually, normally in the autumn. Within the Commission, the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs is the department in charge of: