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Any European country 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.

In the area of human rights, candidate countries must implement all relevant international and European standards, notably the European Convention on Human Rights.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is now legally binding:

  • on the EU institutions when preparing new European laws;
  • on national authorities if they are implementing EU law.

This is also relevant for future EU countries, which will need to have the capacity to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Charter.

Freedom of expression

Further efforts are necessary in a number of areas. Freedom of expression and of the media, which is an integral part of any democratic system, remains a particular concern in most enlargement countries:

  • in Turkey, the legal framework does not yet sufficiently guarantee freedom of expression;
  • in several Western Balkan countries, threats and physical attacks against journalists continue.

More generally:

  • in some countries, defamation remains a criminal offence or subject to disproportionately high fines;
  • political interference in the independence of media, including public service broadcasters, is a problem;
  • editorial independence is still undermined by undue political and economic pressures.

These issues need to be addressed by the countries concerned as a matter of urgency. The Commission will closely monitor progress in this area.

European standards

The main focus will be on areas such as the legal framework and its compliance with European standards, in particular regarding:

  • defamation;
  • the responsibility of authorities to duly sanction all cases of attacks on journalists;
  • the establishment of self-regulatory bodies and their contribution to enhanced professionalism;
  • the role of public service broadcasters in pluralistic democracies;
  • cross-border networks for enhancing reporting across the region, thereby contributing to better mutual understanding.