Statistics Explained

Enlargement policy and statistical cooperation

Article last updated: October 2022.

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.

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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 European 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.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova submitted applications for European Union membership in the first quarter of 2022. On 23 June 2022, the European Council granted a European perspective and candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine, and a European perspective to Georgia. Georgia is grouped with the potential candidates for all practical purposes.

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 Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine; they are currently at different stages of the enlargement process. The official candidate countries include: Albania, Montenegro, Moldova, North Macedonia, Serbia, Türkiye and Ukraine. A candidate country’s status is granted from the day that its application is officially accepted by the European Council. Negotiations about accession start at a later stage, though. Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo are recognised as potential candidates, and Georgia has also a European perspective and is grouped with the potential candidates for all practical purposes. 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. Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, which entered into force in 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

Accession negotiations were initiated with Türkiye in October 2005, with Montenegro in June 2012 and with Serbia in January 2014; in March 2020, the European Council decided with unanimity to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Accession negotiations started on 19 July 2022 when both countries had the first meeting in their respective intergovernmental conferences. Negotiations will focus on the conditions and the timing of the candidates’ adoption, implementation and application of EU rules, also known as the EU acquis. This screening process started in 2022 for both Albania and North Macedonia.

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.

In February 2020 the European Commission adopted the 2020 Communication “Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans”.The Communication proposes changes to reinvigorate the process based on four principles: more credibility, a stronger political steer, a more dynamic process, and greater predictability; and in October 2020 the Commission also adopted a comprehensive “Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans”, which aims to spur the long-term recovery of the region, a green and digital transition, foster economic regional cooperation, boost economic growth and support reforms required to move forward on the EU path.

The role of official statistics in the enlargement process

Official statistics play a triple role in the enlargement process:

  • the EU acquis in the field of statistics (Chapter 18 of the 35 chapters in which the negotiation process is organised) 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  (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 Western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine, 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. 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 addition, Eurostat conducts peer reviews and sector reviews. The instrument for pre-accession assistance (IPA) is the financing instrument for assistance to Western Balkans and Türkiye on their way to membership. Currently Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are supported with resources from the European Neighbourhood Policy. They also benefit from Eurostat capacity building projects within the ENP-East countries group.

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 Western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine.

Reporting and monitoring

The European Commission keeps the Council and the European Parliament duly informed about the progress of Western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine through the reports of the enlargement package (the first enlargement package report on Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine will be delivered in 2023). These reports provide valuable feedback to the countries and identify the main areas where efforts are still required.

Eurostat’s IPA strategy with Western Balkans and Türkiye for the period 2021 – 2027

The timeframe for this strategy corresponds to the EU’s multi-annual financial framework for 2021-2027 and to the implementation period for the IPA III; the latter is a unified instrument for EU pre-accession funding to Western Balkans and Türkiye. The strategy for statistical cooperation with Western Balkans and Türkiye 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 strategy, prepared in 2021, does not cover the three new enlargement countries: Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. Currently Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are supported with resources from the European Neighbourhood Policy. They also benefit from Eurostat capacity building projects within the ENP-East countries group.

Western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine are not at the same level of development and are progressing towards an efficient and modern statistical system at different speeds. In most of Western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine 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 ultimate goal of the cooperation with Western Balkans and Türkiye is that, by the end of the IPA III programmes, the candidate countries are largely compliant with the EU statistical legislation and thus ready to close the statistical chapter (chapter 18) in the negotiations on EU membership, while for potential candidates it is to become largely compliant in most statistical domains.

The objectives of the strategy are to:

  • a) Increase the production and dissemination of high quality statistical data;
  • b) Implement the European statistics Code of Practice;
  • c) Strengthen the administrative and management capacity of the national statistical systems;
  • d) Enhance regional statistical cooperation.

More details available in the strategy

The instruments to support Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine on their path to joining the EU would need to be assessed to take into account their new status.

Data sources

Western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, Türkiye and Ukraine 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. Western Balkans and Türkiye 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; in a set of Statistics Explained articles and, since 2021, they are also presented in factsheets. A statistical book Key figures on enlargement countries with analyses accompanying a set of comparative tables and figures covering a full range of thematic indicators, and leaflets on particular topics were published until 2020. 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.

Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine provide as well data to Eurostat although at a lower level than Western Balkans and Türkiye. Data is disseminated in Eurobase, mainly through the ENP-East domain; in a series of statistical articles on Statistics Explained; in Statistical books on ENP-East countries which include comparative tables and figures on a full range of statistical themes; and in leaflets covering basic data or focusing on a particular theme. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine will be progressively included in the enlargement countries publications.

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Total population, Candidate countries and potential candidates (tgs00027)
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  • Available data on candidate countries and potential candidates are disseminated with the data of the EU Member States in Eurostat's database


* 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.