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 and Turkey, provided they fulfill the accession criteria.
On July 1st, 2013, the European Union welcomed Croatia, thus successfully completing its sixth enlargement. The Union has grown from 6 to 28 Members.
Following decisions taken by the Council in 2005, 2012 and 2013 respectively, accession negotiations were started with Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia. 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.
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 the "screening" process 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, including those concerning the acquis on Customs Union and Taxation. Serbia started its accession negotiations in January 2014. The "screening" process of the Customs and Taxation acquis is ongoing.
Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have all signed and ratified "Stabilization and Association Agreements" (SAA) with the European Union. Those agreements are now in force. On April 30th 2015, the European Commission adopted a proposal for an EU SAA agreement with Kosovo*.
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. Taxation 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 all participate in Fiscalis 2020 and Customs 2020. Bosnia and Herzegovina is expected to join soon. These programs promote cooperation between national tax and customs administrations respectively. Such cooperation includes not only the exchange of expertise but also the development and operation of various trans-European IT systems. Having tax and customs administrations from enlargement countries participate in these two programs with their counterparts in the Member States helps them improve their performance and align their procedures with those used in the EU.
*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 including a list of frequently asked questions can be found in the Commission's Directorate General European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations 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: