Enlargement policy and statistical cooperation
Article last updated: December 2019.
This article is part of a set of background articles which introduce the statistical cooperation activities of the European Union (EU) with non-member countries and focuses on EU enlargement policy, which is part of the Treaty on European Union.
Enlargement policy has proven to be a powerful tool for societal transformation: countries that have already become members of the EU and those on the road to join the EU have undergone far-reaching changes through accession-driven democratic, societal and economic reforms. The integration of new EU Member States from the last three waves of enlargement has created a much larger internal market, thereby expanding the EU’s economy. An enlarged EU may also be better positioned when addressing global challenges, such as climate change.
Requirements for joining the EU
The Treaty on European Union (Article 49) states that any European country may apply for membership if it respects the democratic values of the EU (respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights) and is committed to promoting them. A country’s application should be submitted to the Council (gathering the EU Member States’ government representatives), which has to unanimously adopt its decision after consulting the European Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament. Countries wishing to join the EU must respect a number of conditions for membership:
- political — stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights as well as respect for and protection of minorities;
- economic — a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;
- the ability to take on the obligations (of membership) — including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
In addition, the EU must be able to integrate new Member States, so it reserves the right to decide when it is ready to accept them. In the case of the Western Balkans (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo*, additional conditions for membership were set out in the so-called stabilisation and association process (SAP), mostly relating to regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.
Countries with the perspective of EU membership
The EU Member States have granted the perspective of EU membership to Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo — these six are all from the Western Balkans — as well as Turkey; they are currently at different stages of the enlargement process. The official candidate countries include: Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. A candidate country’s status is granted from the day that its application is officially accepted by the European Council. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are recognised as potential candidates. On 1 June 2015, a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Bosnia and Herzegovina entered into force, whereas the SAA between the EU and Kosovo entered into force on 1 April 2016. On 15 February 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its application to join the EU. In May 2019, the Commission issued its Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's application, providing a comprehensive roadmap for reforms to guide and support the country on its path towards EU integration.
Note that Iceland was in the process of negotiating its entry to the EU. However, on 12 March 2015 it requested to no longer be regarded as a candidate country.
Accession negotiations were initiated with Turkey in October 2005, with Montenegro in June 2012 and Serbia in January 2014; in March 2020, the Council decided with unanimity to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. These negotiations focus on the conditions and the timing of the candidates’ adoption, implementation and application of EU rules, also known as the EU acquis.
Strategy for the Western Balkans
In February 2018, the European Commission adopted a strategy for the Western Balkans, to provide an enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the region. The strategy sets out an action plan with six flagship initiatives targeting specific areas of common interest: rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, digital agenda, reconciliation and good neighbourly relations. Specific actions in these areas are foreseen between 2018 and 2020.
The role of official statistics in the enlargement process
Official statistics play a triple role in the enlargement process:
- the EU acquis (Chapter 18) defines the harmonisation of statistics with EU standards and rules which have to be achieved in the pre-accession period;
- they serve other EU policy areas by providing data for monitoring changes and assessing the impact of policies chosen;
- they provide statistical indicators for monitoring the implementation of the IPA II (instrument for pre-accession assistance) programme.
Reliable and comparable statistics are a precondition for a successful accession process. The EU acquis in the field of statistics requires the existence of a statistical infrastructure based on principles such as professional independence, objectivity, impartiality, commitment to quality, reliability, transparency, confidentiality of individual data and equal access of official statistical data for all users. The EU acquis covers methodology, classifications and procedures for data collection. Little transposition into national legislation is needed as the majority of the EU acquis takes the form of regulations.
Eurostat plays an active role in the enlargement process.
- Ensuring that the national statistical systems comply with the EU acquis in the field of statistics (Chapter 18, subdivided into six different areas). The statistical authorities in enlargement countries, as well as Eurostat, regularly document the progress made towards the implementation of the EU acquis in statistics and also generate country reports for screening and negotiation procedures.
- Providing technical assistance and support to national statistical authorities and other producers of official statistics. To reach the objectives of Eurostat’s strategy for statistical cooperation with candidate countries and potential candidates, several instruments have been put in place to support enlargement countries. Some instruments — statistical training courses, traineeships, study visits, management training, and participation in meetings within the European statistical system (ESS) — aim to reinforce human skills in enlargement countries. In addition, Eurostat conducts peer reviews and sector reviews. The instrument for pre-accession assistance (IPA) is the financing instrument for assistance to countries on their way to membership.
The final objective of the EU in relation to official statistics is to obtain harmonised, high-quality data that conforms to both European and international standards. Annually, Eurostat collects data and this exercise is an opportunity to provide methodological recommendations to enlargement countries.
Reporting and monitoring
The European Commission keeps the Council and the European Parliament duly informed about the progress of the enlargement countries through strategy papers and individual country reports. These reports provide valuable feedback to the countries and identify the main areas where efforts are still required.
Strategy for statistical cooperation with enlargement countries for the period 2014-2020
The timeframe for this strategy corresponds to the EU’s multi-annual financial framework for 2014-2020 and to the implementation period for the IPA II; the latter is a unified instrument for EU pre-accession funding to enlargement countries. The strategy for statistical cooperation with enlargement countries aims to ensure an efficient use of resources by focusing cooperation on those areas where improvements are most needed and by helping to make these achievements sustainable.
The enlargement countries are not at the same level of development and are progressing towards an efficient and modern statistical system at different speeds. In most of these countries basic principles are being followed and the institutional framework for producing statistics is already in place. Efforts therefore have to focus on enhancing the availability, quality and comparability of statistics, especially in the areas that are indispensable for accession negotiations.
The objectives of the strategy are to:
- reach and maintain compliance with the EU acquis in statistics;
- make statistics a better tool for policy purposes;
- integrate the national statistical authorities into the European statistical system (ESS);
- ensure compliance with the European statistics Code of Practice;
- strengthen the management capacity of national statistical authorities.
The expected results of each of these objectives are indicated in Table 1.
The enlargement countries are expected to increase the volume and quality of their data progressively, and to transmit these data to Eurostat and the wider ESS in the context of the EU accession process. They already provide a large set of data on an annual basis which are disseminated through a range of media: validated statistics are uploaded to Eurobase, Eurostat’s free online reference database; they are also presented in a statistical book Key figures on enlargement countries (the latest edition of which was published in May 2019), with analyses accompanying a set of comparative tables and figures covering a full range of thematic indicators; in leaflets on particular topics; and in a set of Statistics Explained articles. In addition, when available, harmonised data from candidate countries (and sometimes also potential candidates) are also published along with data for EU Member States and EFTA countries in major Eurostat publications such as the Eurostat regional yearbook, or the statistical book on Energy, transport and environment indicators.
- Total population, Candidate countries and potential candidates (tgs00027)
- Gross domestic product, Candidate countries and potential candidates (tgs00028)
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.