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Any country seeking membership of the European Union (EU) must conform to the conditions set out by Article 49 and the principles laid down in Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union. Relevant criteria were established by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 and strengthened by the Madrid European Council in 1995 (Copenhagen criteria).

At the highest level, the EU has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to eventual EU membership of the Western Balkan countries, Iceland and Turkey, provided they fulfill the accession criteria.

On July 1st, 2013, the European Union successfully completed its sixth enlargement, welcoming Croatia. The Union has grown from 6 to 28 Members.

Following decisions taken by the Council in 2005, 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively, accession negotiations were started with Turkey, Iceland, Montenegro and Serbia. In 2013, the government of Iceland decided to put accession negotiations on hold.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania were granted candidate status in 2005 and 2014 respectively. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* are potential candidates for accession.

Accession negotiations start with the so called "screening" i.e. a review and comparison of the relevant national and EU legislation (acquis). Once "screening" has been completed, the Council may decide to open negotiations of one or several of 35 "Chapters", two of which concern the acquis on Customs Union and on Taxation. Montenegro has completed the "screening" process and opened negotiations of several Chapters. The same is true for Turkey but in 2006, the European Council decided that until Turkey agrees to apply the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus, negotiation of eight Chapters, including Customs Union will not start and several others, including Taxation, will not be provisionally closed.

Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania have all signed and ratified "Stabilization and Association Agreements" (SAA) with the European Union. Those agreements are now in force. Bosnia and Herzegovina has signed an SAA but that agreement is not yet in force. In the meantime, an Interim agreement on trade and trade related issues, applies.

The Stabilization and Association agreements establish a free trade area between the EU and the country concerned, identify common political and economic objectives and encourage regional co-operation. In the context of accession to the European Union, the SAA serves as the basis for implementation of the accession process. Tax and customs matters are regularly discussed in this framework. Legislative and other activities are monitored by the Commission and results are detailed in an annual "regular (or progress) report".

Enlargement countries receive support from the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) in pursuing their reform process. European funding is aimed mainly at strengthening institutions, transposing the EU acquis, improving socio-economic conditions, strengthening civil society, protecting the environment, fostering sustainable development and supporting the modernization of the tax and customs administrations.

Turkey, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania took part in Customs 2013. This program promoted cooperation between national customs administrations. In turn, customs cooperation and modernisation of the customs administrations contribute to the stability of the South-East European region and facilitate economic growth. They also promote trade facilitation, security and the fight against illicit trafficking of goods and people.

All enlargement countries have asked to participate in the new Customs 2020 program as well as in Fiscalis 2020, a similar programme promoting cooperation between tax administrations.

Following a decision by the Council in December 2013, Serbia has started its accession negotiations in January 2014. The screening of the Customs acquis took place in March

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence'


Background information

Background information including a list of frequently asked questions can be found in the Commission's Directorate General Enlargement website. On that site you will also find references to key documents, the conditions for accession, the enlargement process and the Treaty of Accession. The Treaty of Accession of Croatia, signed on  9 December 2011 is published on Eur-Lex.

Information on external Trade, including with enlargement countries, can be found on the Trade Export Helpdesk.

More detailed information concerning the rules of origin can be found on this website with the following links:

For the Western Balkans:

For Turkey: