HomeE.U. Enlargement ╗ Candidate countries

Candidate and Potential Candidate Countries


A gradual and carefully managed enlargement policy is in the interest of the EU. Future enlargements will concern the countries of south-eastern Europe. These countries are at various stages on their road towards the EU.

Croatia and Turkey are candidate countries. They started accession negotiations on 3 October 2005. In December 2005, the European Council granted the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the status of a candidate country; accession negotiations have not started.

All the other Western Balkan countries are potential candidate countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia including Kosovo under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The EU has repeatedly reaffirmed at the highest level its commitment for eventual EU membership of the Western Balkan countries, provided they fulfill the accession criteria.

A new Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) aims to provide targeted pre-accession assistance both to candidate countries and to potential candidates.

Enlargement Strategy and Progress Reports

The Commission prepares every year Progress Reports on each country. These reports describe the political and economic developments in the candidate and potential candidate countries. They assess the ability of the candidate countries to transpose and implement EU legislation and the progress of the potential candidate countries in adopting EU standards and in fulfilling other specific conditions, such as regional cooperation and cooperation with the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). They highlight the main achievements and pinpoint the shortcomings.

To establish a clear framework for the enlargement policy, the Commission also adopted a strategy document on the way ahead, including a special report on the Union’s absorption capacity, as requested by the European Council in June 2006.

Each year, alongside the Enlargement Stategy and Progress Reports, the Commission will present a multi-annual indicative financial framework (MIFF pdf - 32 KB [32 KB] ). This will provide information on the Commission's intentions in terms of indicative financial allocations for each country and for Kosovo (UNSCR 1244) and the five IPA components (transition assistance and institution building; cross-border cooperation; regional development; human resources development; and rural development). The MIFF takes the form of a financial table covering a three year period. It forms the link between the political framework and the budgetary process.

Candidate Countries: Croatia, Turkey and FYROM

 “EU leaders granted Croatia official candidate status in June 2004, and accession negotiations were originally scheduled to start on 17 March 2005. However, the launch of talks was put off on 16 March pending Zagreb's "full co-operation" with the UN war crimes tribunal. Finally, on 3 October 2005, Zagreb received a green light for accession talks to commence.
According to the Commission, Croatia has stable democratic institutions and there are no major problems as regards the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.
The political preconditions set for Croatia's EU bid have included the return of ethnic Serbs who fled the country during and after the 1991-95 Serbo-Croatian war, reform of the judiciary and full co-operation with the UN war crimes court at The Hague. 
The EU has put particular pressure on Zagreb over the case of fugitive general Ante Gotovina, indicted in absentia over war crimes committed in the final stages of the 1991-1995 war. However, Zagreb has yet to deliver Gotovina to The Hague tribunal, which the EU had for months interpreted as a failure to meet the conditions attached to the accession process.
Croatia's treatment of minorities (as stipulated in the Copenhagen criteria) is also seen as problematic. The 1991-1995 war saw some 300,000 ethnic Serbs flee the country. To date, over a third of them have returned. One of the main practical problems in terms of their return is housing. Many of their former homes are now occupied by Croats who fled Bosnia. The housing issue is further compounded by the fact that there are hardly any jobs for them.
In terms of economic issues, Croatia is already considered to have a functioning market economy as advanced and stable as some existing EU member states. The Commission has recognised the country's efforts to achieve "a considerable degree of macroeconomic stability with low inflation".
The areas where further action is required include:
- full co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal
- the judicial sector
- public administration
- the fiscal and social security systems” (EurActiv) 
 “Ever since the foundation of modern day Turkey in 1923, this country with a predominantly Muslim population has been a secular democracy closely aligned with the West. Turkey was a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of NATO (since 1952), the Council of Europe (1949), the OECD (1961) and an associate member of the Western European Union (1992). Ankara chose to begin co-operating closely with the then European Economic Community in 1959, and Turkey's prospective membership in the EEC's successor, the European Union, has been a source of much debate since.
In its 17 December 2004 decision, the European Council recognised Turkey’s “significant legislative progress in many areas” but added that “these need to be further consolidated and broadened”. Furthermore, the report also took note of the improvements in the country’s economic stability and predictability and the strengthened independence and efficiency of the judiciary. Regarding the respect for human rights and the exercise of fundamental freedoms, “Turkey has acceded to most relevant international and European conventions”. 
Most importantly for Ankara, Turkey got a fixed date (3 October 2005) for starting membership negotiations. The Turkish side had originally hoped for an earlier date, in view of the Copenhagen summit commitment that the EU would open talks "without delay" once Turkey is deemed to have made sufficient progress in its reforms.
Under the Council’s decision, a framework for Turkey’s EU membership negotiations was established by the Commission. This document was released on 29 June. The negotiating framework, which has been described by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn as "rigorous", rests on the following elements: 
The underlying and shared objective of the talks will be Turkey’s accession. However, the negotiations will be “open-ended”, which means that their outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand. 
At the end of the talks, should Turkey fail to qualify in full for all obligations of EU membership as specified in the Copenhagen criteria, EU member states would still ensure that Ankara is “fully anchored in the European structures through the strongest possible bond”. 
The accession negotiations will be conducted in the framework of an Intergovernmental Conference with the participation of Turkey and all EU member states. The policy issues will be broken down into 35 policy areas (chapters) - more than ever before - and the decisions will require unanimity
The EU may consider the inclusion of long transition periods, derogations, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses in its proposals for each framework. 
Membership talks with candidates “whose accession could have substantial financial consequences” (such as Turkey) can only be concluded after 2014, the scheduled date for the establishment of the EU’s new financial framework. 
Accession negotiations can be suspended in case of a “serious and persistent breach […] of the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded”. Suspension would require a Commission initiative or a request to that effect by one third of the member states. The final decision would be made by the Council by qualified majority, and the European Parliament would be informed. 
Under a compromise formula agreed at the December 2004 EU Council, before 3 October 2005 Turkey would have to sign a protocol that will adapt the 1963 Ankara Treaty to the ten new member states of the EU, including the Greek Cypriot government. For practical purposes this would amount to an implicit recognition of this government for the first time since the island’s division in 1974. “The adoption of this protocol is in no way recognition, and I’ve put this on the record,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. The deal did not include a commitment from Ankara that the protocol would be ratified by the Turkish parliament before October 2005. As for the other key condition: Turkey on 1 June 2005 enacted the country's revised penal code.
Throughout Europe, the arguments that surround Turkey's projected accession revolve around a series of issues, ranging from demographic through geographic to political. One commonly raised point is that, if and when it were to join the EU, Turkey would become the EU's most populated member state. Turkey's current population is 71 million, and demographers project it to increase to 80-85 million in the next 20 years. This compares with the largest current EU member state Germany, which has 83 million people today, but whose population is projected to decrease to around 80 million by 2020.
Another argument is rooted in the age-old debate on whether it is possible to establish geographic borders for Europe, and whether Turkey 'fits' within these borders. This is seen by many as a dispute that rests on philosophical and intellectual prejudgements, especially since the Treaty of Rome is widely accepted to aim for the construction of a union of European states based on shared common values.
Perhaps the most sensitive of all arguments centre on the cultural and religious differences. Since the EU identifies itself as a cultural and religious mosaic that recognises and respects diversity, the supporters of Turkey's EU bid believe that, as long as both Turkey and the EU member states maintain this common vision, cultural and religious differences should be irrelevant.
The EU member states' concerns over Turkey's human rights record as well as global and regional security-related issues have also been key factors behind Turkey's prolonged application process.
The future of the divided island of Cyprus has also been a major sticking point. The Council's December 2004 decision entailed a compromise formula on the Cyprus issue, under which the affected sides were expected to work towards a solution to the conflict before the scheduled 3 October 2005 launch of membership talks with Ankara. However, the accession talks will now open with the Cyprus conflict still unresolved.
The results of the referenda on the EU Constitution during the first half of 2005 - especially the No votes in France and the Netherlands - have been detrimental to Turkey's EU bid. Although subsequent research and surveys have failed to prove that enlargement in general, and Turkey's candidancy in particular, were key factors behind the public's rejection of the Constitution, the summer of 2005 still witnessed an increase Europe-wide of scepticism towards Turkey's European prospects.” (EurActiv)
Former Yougoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)


The Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) is the EU’s policy framework for the countries of the Western Balkans - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro . The main elements of this long-term commitment to the region were proposed in a Commission Communication (COM (99) 235 of 26 May 1999). The Zagreb Summit (24/11/2000) set the seal on the SAP, by gaining the region’s agreement in a Final Declaration to a clear set of objectives and conditions. The SAP supports the Western Balkan countries’ development and preparations for future EU membership by combining three main instruments: the Stabilisation and Association Agreements, autonomous trade measures and substantial financial assistance. Regional co-operation constitutes a cornerstone of the SAP.

In May 2003, a Commission Communication on “The Western Balkans and European Integration” (COM (2003) 285 final of 21 May 2003) proposed to enrich the EU policy towards the region with elements taken from the Enlargement process, reinforcing the ultimate goal of extending membership to the Western Balkans. The European Council of Thessaloniki (19-20 June 2003) confirmed the European perspective of the Western Balkans countries as well as the SAP as the policy framework of their EU course all the way to their future accession and endorsed the Thessaloniki Agenda. The latter aims at strengthening the SAP so that it can better meet the new challenges. It initiated European Partnerships (for Croatia) with the Western Balkan countries, which identify short and medium term priorities which each country needs to address. The EU – Western Balkans Summit of Thessaloniki (21 June 2003) provided an opportunity to assess three years of work in stability, democracy and economic recovery in all countries of the region and resulted in the endorsement of the Thessaloniki Agenda.

European Commission’s opinion on Croatia's application for EU membership – April 2004

Croatia presented its application for EU membership on 21 February 2003 and in April 2003 the Council asked the Commission to prepare an opinion on this application. On 20 April 2004 the Commission published its Opinion on Croatia's Application for Membership of the European Union (COM(2004) 257 final. In this Opinion, the Commission concluded that

  • Croatia was a functioning democracy, with stable institutions guaranteeing the rule of law and no major problems regarding the respect of fundamental rights. It was also concluded that Croatia’s cooperation with ICTY had improved significantly in the past months. Nevertheless, it was concluded that Croatia needed to make additional efforts in the field of minority rights, refugee returns, judiciary reform, regional co-operation and the fight against corruption and that Croatia needed to maintain full cooperation with ICTY and take all necessary steps to ensure that the remaining indictee was located and transferred to The Hague.
  • Croatia could be regarded as a functioning market economy which should be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term, provided that it continues implementing its reform programme to remove remaining weaknesses.

As regards the other obligations of membership, the Commission concluded that :

  • If it continued its efforts, Croatia should not have major difficulties in applying the acquis in the medium term in the following fields: Economic and Monetary Union; Statistics; Industrial policy; Small and medium-sized enterprises; Science and research; Education and training; Culture and audio-visual policy; External relations; Common foreign and security policy; Financial and budgetary provisions.
  • Croatia would have to make further efforts to align its legislation with the acquis and to effectively implement and enforce it in the medium term in the following fields: Free movement of capital; Company law; Fisheries; Transport; Energy; Consumer and health protection; Customs union; Financial control.
  • Croatia would have to make considerable and sustained efforts to align its legislation with the acquis and to effectively implement and enforce it in the medium term in the following fields: Free movement of goods; Free movement of persons; Freedom to provide services; Competition; Agriculture; Taxation; Social policy and employment; Telecommunications and information technologies; Regional policy; Justice and home affairs.
  • For the environment, very significant efforts would be needed, including substantial investment and strengthening of administrative capacity for the enforcement of legislation. Full compliance with the acquis could be achieved only in the long term and would necessitate increased levels of investment.

In the light of these considerations, the Commission recommended that negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened with Croatia. The European Council of 17 and 18 June 2004 subsequently decided that Croatia was a candidate country.

The opening of accession negotiations - 3 October 2005

The European Council of 16/17 December 2004 decided that accession negotiations would be opened on 17 March 2005 provided that there was full cooperation with the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY). However, in the absence of confirmation of full cooperation, the Council on 16 March 2005 decided to postpone the opening of accession negotiations. In an important, positive signal to Croatia, the EU nevertheless adopted a negotiating framework for Croatia so that once the outstanding condition was met, the EU would be ready to start negotiations.

Following a positive assessment on 3 October 2005 from the ICTY Chief Prosecutor that cooperation was now full, EU-Croatia relations entered a new phase with the confirmation by Council that the outstanding condition for the start of accession negotiations was met. The very same day the Council decided to open accession negotiations with Croatia. The Council agreed that less than full cooperation with ICTY at any stage would affect the overall progress of negotiations and could be grounds for their suspension.

The first stage of the negotiations is the so-called “screening”, an exercise, which brings together experts from Croatia and from the Commission. Screening began in October 2005 and lasted until October 2006. Its purpose is to explain the whole range of EU legislation in detail on a chapter by chapter basis, and to examine Croatia’s plans for its adoption and implementation. The screening will enable the EU to decide upon the opening of individual chapters for negotiations


Turkey has had a long association with the project of European integration. It made its first application to join what was then the European Economic Community (EEC) in July 1959. The EEC’s response to this first application was to propose the creation of an association between the EEC and Turkey, which led to the signature an Association agreement in 1963 franšaisDeutsch . This Agreement envisaged the progressive establishment of a customs union which would bring the two sides closer together in economic and trade matters.

The main institutions under the Association agreement are the Joint Parliamentary Committee - with representatives of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and the European Parliament – and the Association Council. The Association Council brings together EU and Member State representatives and the Turkish authorities.

The Ankara Agreement was supplemented by an additional protocol signed in November 1970, which sets out a timetable for the abolition of tariffs and quotas on goods circulating between Turkey and the EEC.

There was a temporary freeze in Turkish- EEC relations as a result of the military intervention in 1980. Following the multiparty elections of 1983, relations were re-established and Turkey applied for full membership in 1987. In 1990, the European Council confirmed Turkey’s eligibility for membership yet deferred an in-depth analysis of its application until the emergence of a more favourable environment.

A customs union between Turkey and the EU was established in 1995. Since then, Turkey's share in the EU's foreign trade has significantly increased, to the extent that in 2005 Turkey's was the EU's 7th biggest trading partner.

At the Helsinki European Council of December 1999, Turkey was officially recognised as a candidate country. This marked the beginning of a pre-accession strategy for Turkey designed to stimulate and support its reform process through financial assistance and other forms of cooperation.

An Accession Partnership was adopted by the Council of the EU in March 2001 and revised first in May 2003 and later in January 2006. The purpose of the Accession Partnership is to assist the Turkish authorities in their efforts to meet the accession criteria, with particular emphasis on the political criteria. It covers in detail the priorities for accession preparations, in particular implementation of the EU law, and forms the basis for pre-accession assistance from Community funds.

Turkey drew up a National Plan for the Adoption of the Acquis following the 2001 and 2003 Accession Partnerships. This document outlines the government’s own strategy for the harmonisation of its legislation with EU law. A new National Plan is expected following the revision of the Accession Partnership in 2006.

In December 2004, the European Council concluded that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria to open accession negotiations. Negotiations started on 3 October 2005 when the Council adopted a Negotiating Framework pdf - 42 KB [42 KB] .

The first stage of negotiations started in October 2005 with the analytical examination of the EU legislation, or the so-called screening process. EU law is divided into chapters for this purpose. This process allows candidate countries to familiarise themselves with EU law, and the Commission to evaluate the degree of preparedness of the candidate countries in all chapters. Screening meetings were completed in October 2006. As a follow-up, the Commission prepares screening reports on the basis of which EU Member States decide whether a given chapter can be opened for actual negotiations. One chapter has already been opened and provisionally closed in June 2006, namely chapter 25 Science and Research.

In June 2006, negotiations were provisionally opened and closed in one Chapter ("Science and Research").

EU Assistance to Turkey

Turkey is the beneficiary of a dedicated pre-accession financial assistance instrument to help it meet the criteria for EU membership. This was adopted by the European Council in December 2001. Prior to this, Turkey was a beneficiary of the MEDA programme, which for many years has been the principal financial instrument for the implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. EU pre-accession assistance provides support for institution building, investment to strengthen the regulatory infrastructure needed to ensure compliance with the acquis, investment in economic and social cohesion and the promotion of the civil society dialogue.

Around €1.15 billion of EU financing is currently being managed in Turkey for projects committed between 1996 and 2004 inclusive. The budgetary allocation for 2005 is €300 Mio, and for 2006, €500 Mio. From 2007 Turkey, along with other candidate and potential candidate countries, will be a beneficiary of the IPA instrument. Under IPA, it is expected that the average annual allocation for Turkey will increase from €497 Mio in 2007 to €653.7 Mio in 2010.

As mentioned above, a revised accession partnership has been adopted and will serve as the basis for financial programming in future years.

The priorities for the 2006 financial programme include supporting the implementation of the Copenhagen political criteria, including some closely-related subjects in the sector of Justice, Freedom and Security, supporting economic and social cohesion by targeting the poorest regions in Turkey, promoting the implementation of the acquis related to the customs union, the internal market, agriculture, environment, and promoting political and social dialogue between the EU and Turkey.Overall, the impact of EU assistance to Turkey is increasingly positive. The EU has provided significant resources in a number of important areas such as basic education, training, environmental infrastructure and economic adjustment.

EU assistance is not the only source of financial support for helping Turkey to meet its Accession Partnership priorities. The country is also a major beneficiary of assistance from the European Investment Bank (EIB), with Turkey receiving EIB loans worth €1,955 million from 1992 to 2002. The Commission also cooperates extensively with the World Bank, which is particularly active in Turkey, occasionally co-financing projects. Discussions between the World Bank and Commission have taken place at all levels concerning the development of the former’s Country Assistance Strategy 2004-2006.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - FYROM

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has contractual relations with the EC since 1996 when it signed an agreement to be eligible for assistance from the EC PHARE programme. In 1997 it signed a Cooperation Agreement, in force until 2004, as well as Textile Agreements [1Go] which were in force from 1998 till 2003 [161 Mo]. Following the conclusion of the negotiations at the Zagreb Summit of November 2000, a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was signed in Luxembourg in April 2001 and entered into force in April 2004.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia submitted an application for EU membership on 22 March 2004 and the Commission was tasked by the European Council to prepare an Opinion on this application. The Commission adopted its Opinion on 9 November 2005. The Opinion of the Commission analyses the country’s application on the basis of its capacity to meet the criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council of 1993 and the conditions set for the Stabilisation and Association Process for the Western Balkans. In line with these criteria it has three main conclusions.

  1. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is well on its way to satisfy the political criteria for EU membership. It is a functioning democracy, with stable institutions which generally guarantee the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights. The country signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in 2001 and has generally fulfilled the related obligations in a satisfactory manner. It has successfully implemented the legislative agenda of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which has improved the political and security situation. However, the country needs to make additional efforts to improve the electoral process, to implement reforms in the judiciary and the police, and to strengthen the fight against corruption.
  2. On the economic criteria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has taken important steps towards establishing a functioning market economy. However, on the basis of the present situation the Commission considers that the country would not be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term. The path of economic reform needs to be pursued with vigour, especially in areas such as land and property registration, improving the business climate, making the country more attractive to domestic and foreign investment, decreasing the size of the grey sector, and improving the functioning of the labour market and the financial markets.
  3. On the country’s ability to assume the obligations of membership, the Opinion contains a detailed analysis based on the 33 Chapters of the acquis which will eventually serve as the basis for accession negotiations. Overall, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be in a position to take on most of the obligations of membership in the medium term (5 years), but major efforts to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of legislation will be necessary. Moreover, the Commission considers that the country might not be able to comply with the requirements of the acquis in the medium term in the areas of technical norms and standards, protection of intellectual property rights, competition policy, and financial control unless efforts are speeded up considerably. Full compliance with the acquis in the field of environment could be achieved only in the long term and would necessitate increased levels of investment.

 Based on this assessment, the Commission recommended to the Council to grant the country candidate status as a political recognition of a closer relationship between the EU and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on its way towards membership. As regards the possible opening of accession negotiations, the Commission considered that negotiations could be opened once the country has reached a sufficient degree of compliance with the membership criteria.

The Commission also presented a proposal for a new European Partnership pdf - 85 KB [85 KB] Deutsch (de) français (fr) , which, based on its analysis in the Opinion, updated the 2004 Partnership and identified the priorities which the country needs to address in preparing for the opening of negotiations. The Partnership should help the country’s government to concentrate reform efforts and available resources where they are most needed. It should also influence the allocation of future financial assistance from the EU.

Following the Commission’s recommendation, the European Council decided [1Go] on 16 December 2005 to grant candidate status to the country. As regards further steps, the European Council concluded that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will have to demonstrate further progress and achievements in meeting the Copenhagen political criteria, the requirements of the Stabilisation and Association Process and the effective implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. It will also have to make further significant progress to respond to the other issues and criteria for membership included in the Commission's Opinion and in the European Partnership. On 30 January 2006, the Council adopted a Decision on the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the European Partnership with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Commission is tasked to closely monitor progress on political, economic and other reforms in the country. It presented its first Report to the Council on the progress achieved by the country on 8 November 2006./


Potential Candidate Countries: Western Balkans

“The EU's fundamental aim for the Western Balkans region (South East Europe) is to create a situation where military conflict is unthinkable – expanding to the region the area of peace, stability, prosperity and freedom established over the last 50 years by the EU and its member states.
In the wake of the violent conflicts that marked the recent history of the Western Balkans region, the EU considers it a priority to promote the development of peace, stability, prosperity and freedom in the South Eastern European countries of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania. Croatia is discussed in a separate LinksDossier on account of its official candidate status. The framework for the EU's approach is the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), which is designed to encourage and support domestic reform processes. In the long run, SAP offers these countries the prospect of full integration into the EU's structures, provided that certain political and economic conditions are met.
The Lisbon European Council of March 2000 stated that Stabilisation and Association Agreements with Western Balkan countries, which involve the establishment of Free Trade Areas "should be preceded by asymmetrical trade liberalisation". As part of the Stabilisation and Association process the Council decided to improve the existing autonomous trade preferences, and provide autonomous trade liberalisation for 95% of all the affected countries' exports to EU.
The EU, also in its capacity as the main assistance donor in the region, recognises progress by entering into formal contractual relationship with the qualifying states. To date, Croatia and the FYROM have signed Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) with the EU. The other countries will follow once they have achieved the required progress on reform.” (EurActiv)