European Union Enlargement
European Union Enlargement
Specialist in European Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The European Union (EU) views the enlargement process as a historic opportunity
to promote stability and prosperity in Europe. On January 1, 2007, Bulgaria and
Romania joined the EU, enlarging the Union to 27 countries. The EU’s previous
enlargement in May 2004 brought in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary,
Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In 2005, the EU agreed to
open accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, and named Macedonia as an
official EU candidate; in December 2006, the EU partially suspended talks with Turkey
over ongoing disputes over Cyprus. Although the EU maintains that the enlargement
door remains open, “enlargement fatigue” has become a serious issue in Europe and
some experts believe that EU enlargement may be reaching its limits. The status of EU
enlargement is one of many transatlantic issues likely to be of interest to the second
session of the 110th Congress. This report will be updated as necessary. See also CRS
Report RS21372, The European Union: Questions and Answers, by Kristin Archick.
Background on the European Union
After World War II, leaders in western Europe and the United States were anxious
to secure long-term peace and stability on the European continent and create a favorable
environment for economic growth and recovery. In 1952, six states — Belgium, the
Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands —
established the European Coal and Steel Community, a single market in these two
industrial sectors that was controlled by an independent supranational authority. In 1957,
the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community, extending the
common market to all economic sectors, and the European Atomic Energy Community
to ensure the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In 1967, these three formations
collectively became known as the European Community (EC).
The EC first added new members in 1973, with the entry of the United Kingdom,
Ireland, and Denmark. Greece joined in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.
The Single European Act modified the EC Treaties in 1987 by increasing the powers of
the European Parliament and enabling the 1992 single market program to move forward.
At the beginning of 1993, the near completion of the single market brought about the
mostly free movement of goods, services, capital, and people within the EC.
On November 1, 1993, the Treaty on
European Union (Maastricht Treaty) went into
EU Institutionseffect, establishing the European Union (EU),
which encompasses the EC. The European
The European Union is a treaty-based,Union consists of three pillars: an expanded and
institutional framework that defines andstrengthened EC, a common foreign and security
manages economic and political cooperationpolicy, and common internal security measures.
among its 27 member states. It is governed by
several institutions.The Treaty contains provisions that have
The European Commission isresulted in the creation of an economic andmonetary union (EMU), including a common
essentially the EU’s executive and has the1
exclusive right of legislative initiative. ItEuropean currency. The European Union is
ensures that the provisions of the Treaties areintended as a significant step on the path toward
carried out properly. The 27 Commissioners
are appointed by agreement among thegreater political and economic integration.
governments of the member states for five-year
terms. Each Commissioner holds a distinctOn January 1, 1995, Austria, Finland, and
portfolio (e.g., agriculture).
Sweden joined the EU, bringing membership to
The Council of the European Union15 states. In June 1997, EU leaders met to
(Council of Ministers) is comprised ofreview the Maastricht Treaty and consider the
ministers from the national governments. As
the main decision-making body, it enactsfuture course of European integration. The
legislation based on proposals put forward byresulting Amsterdam Treaty increased the
the Commission. Different ministerslegislative power of the European Parliament,
participate depending on the subject under
consideration (e.g., economics ministers couldstrengthened the EU’s foreign policy, developed
convene to discuss unemployment policy). Thea more coherent EU strategy to boost
Presidency rotates among the member states foremployment, and integrated procedures for
a period of six months.
managing internal security.
The European Council brings together
the Heads of State or Government of the
member states and the President of theIn December 2000, EU leaders concluded
Commission at least twice a year. It actsthe Nice Treaty to pave the way for further EU
principally as a guide and driving force for EUenlargement, although it effectively set a limit of
27 member states. The Nice Treaty also set out
The European Parliament consists ofinternal, institutional reforms to allow an
785 members. Since 1979, they have beenenlarged Union to function effectively. Critics
directly elected in each member state for five-
year terms. The Parliament cannot enact lawsargued, however, that the Nice Treaty
like national parliaments, but has some “co-established an even more complex decision-
decision” power with the Council of Ministersmaking process. Thus, the EU embarked on a
and can amend or reject the EU’s budget.
new reform effort.
The Court of Justice interprets EU law
and its rulings are binding; a Court of AuditorsIn June 2004, EU leaders concluded work
monitors the Union’s financial management. A
number of other advisory bodies representon a constitutional treaty that would have
economic, social, and regional interests.simplified EU voting rules and contained further
changes to the EU’s governing institutions.
Commonly referred to as the “constitution,” it had to be ratified by all member states
1 Eleven members — Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg,
the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal — adopted a single European currency, the euro, on January
1, 1999. Greece joined in 2001, Slovenia in 2007, and Cyprus and Malta in 2008. The 15
participating countries have a common central bank and a common monetary policy. Banks and
many businesses began using the euro as a unit of account in 1999; euro notes and coins replaced
national currencies on January 1, 2002.
through either parliamentary approval or public referendums in order to come into effect.
The constitution’s future was thrown into doubt following its rejection by French and
Dutch voters in the spring of 2005. Some suggested that the difficulties with ratifying the
constitution called into question further expansion of the EU, given that considerable
public opposition to the constitution was tied to concerns about EU enlargement.
In December 2007, EU leaders approved a new reform treaty — the Lisbon Treaty
— to essentially replace the proposed constitution. Experts claimed the Lisbon Treaty
preserved over 90% of the substance of the original constitution, and would remove at
least the technical obstacles to further EU enlargement beyond 27 member states. EU
officials presented the Lisbon Treaty as a document that could be ratified by parliaments,
thereby avoiding risky public referendums in most EU states, except Ireland, which was
required by law to hold a public vote. In June 2008, Irish voters rejected the Lisbon
Treaty, fearing that it would reduce Ireland’s influence in the EU, undermine Ireland’s
neutrality, and eliminate its ability to set its own tax rates. EU leaders have called on the
ratification process to continue in other EU states, and have given Irish officials until
October 2008 to propose a way forward. EU officials hope that the Lisbon Treaty will
still be able to enter into force before the next European Parliament elections in the spring
Process of Enlargement
The EU views enlargement as a historic opportunity to help in the transformation of
the countries involved, extending peace, stability, prosperity, democracy, human rights
and the rule of law throughout Europe. The carefully managed process of enlargement is
one of the EU’s most powerful policy tools that has helped to transform the countries of
Central and Eastern Europe into more modern, functioning democracies.
Under Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union, any European country may
apply for membership if it meets a set of established political and economic criteria. In
addition, the EU must be able to absorb new members, so the EU can decide when it is
ready to accept a new member. The criteria for EU membership require candidates to
achieve “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights
and respect for and protection of minorities; a functioning market economy, as well as the
capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; the ability
to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political,
economic and monetary union.”3
Accession talks begin with a screening process to see to what extent applicants meet
the EU’s 80,000 pages of rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire. The
acquis is divided into 35 chapters that range from free movement of goods to agriculture
to competition. Detailed negotiations at a ministerial level take place to establish the
terms under which applicants will meet and implement the rules in each chapter. The
European Commission proposes common negotiating positions for the EU on each
chapter, which must be approved unanimously by the Council of Ministers. In all areas
2 For more information, see CRS Report RS21618, The European Union’s Reform Process: The
Lisbon Treaty, by Kristin Archick.
3 Conclusions of the European Council, Copenhagen, Denmark, June 1993.
of the acquis, the candidate country must bring its institutions, management capacity and
administrative and judicial systems up to EU standards, both at national and regional
levels. During negotiations, applicants may request transition periods for complying with
certain EU rules. All candidates receive financial assistance from the EU, mainly to aid
in the accession process. Chapters of the acquis can only be opened and closed with the
approval of all 27 member states. Periodically, the Commission issues “progress” reports
to the Council and European Parliament assessing the progress achieved by the candidate
country. Once the Commission concludes negotiations on all 35 chapters with an
applicant, the agreements reached are incorporated in a draft accession treaty, which is
submitted to the Council for approval and to the European Parliament for assent. After
signature, the accession treaty must be ratified by each EU member and the candidate
country; this process can take two years.
The EU began accession negotiations in March 1998 with Cyprus, the Czech
Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. In December 1999, at its summit in
Helsinki, Finland, the EU decided to open negotiations with six others: Bulgaria, Latvia,
Lithuania, Malta, Romania, and Slovakia. Turkey was also formally recognized as a
candidate at Helsinki but remained in a separate category for several years as it sought to
comply fully with the membership criteria (see below). At its December 2002 summit in
Copenhagen, Denmark the EU concluded accession talks with Cyprus, the Czech
Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
The accession treaty was signed with these ten states on April 16, 2003, and they acceded
to the EU on May 1, 2004.
Although Brussels would have preferred a prior political solution to the conflict over
Cyprus, it stated that this was not a “precondition” for the divided island’s accession.
Moreover, Athens had threatened to block any enlargement that excluded Cyprus. Twin
referendums on a U.N. plan to reunify the island were held on April 24, 2004.
Approximately 65% of Turkish Cypriot voters in the north approved the plan, but 76%
of Greek Cypriot voters in the south rejected it. Without a settlement, EU laws and
financial benefits are applied only to the southern Greek Cypriot part of the island, which
is the internationally recognized state.4
In December 2004, the EU concluded accession negotiations with Bulgaria and
Romania, and on January 1, 2007, these two nations formally joined the EU, bringing the
Union to 27 member states and completing the fifth enlargement since 1957. The
addition of these two nations stretches the borders of the Union to the Black Sea and
increases the population of the EU to over 490 million. Some restrictions in specific trade
sectors and labor market access remain in place for both countries, as do further oversight
mechanisms with respect to judicial reforms and combating corruption. Little progress
in these problem areas has prompted calls for ongoing monitoring in both countries.
Turkey and the Western Balkans
Turkey and the European Community first concluded an association agreement
aimed at developing closer economic ties in 1963, but Turkey’s 1987 application for full
4 For more information, see CRS Report RL33497, Cyprus: Status of U.N. Negotiations and
Related Issues, by Carol Migdalovitz.
EC membership was rejected. The EU recognized Turkey formally as a candidate at the
1999 Helsinki summit but asserted that Turkey still needed to comply fully with the EU’s
political and economic criteria. After some contentious debate among EU members over
issues related to Turkey’s lack of formal recognition of Cyprus and whether a “privileged
partnership” short of full membership for Turkey should be retained as a future option,
the EU opened accession talks with Turkey on October 3, 2005. The EU maintains that
the “shared objective of the negotiations is accession,” but that it will be an “open-ended
process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand.”
Formal negotiations between the EU and Turkey on the acquis began in 2006; talks
are expected to last at least a decade. Meanwhile, Turkey’s continued failure to recognize
Cyprus and its refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cyprus as required by
Turkey’s customs union with the EU threatened early on to derail the accession process.
As a compromise interim settlement, the EU decided in December 2006 to partially freeze
accession talks with Turkey in eight chapters dealing with areas affecting the customs
union; talks were allowed to continue in the other 27 chapters. Some negotiations with
Turkey resumed in 2007, but France under new President Nicolas Sarkozy blocked
opening talks on the sensitive monetary union chapter. In its November 2007 annual
progress report on Turkey, the European Commission asserted that Turkey continues to
make progress on its political reforms, but more work is needed, especially in areas
related to fundamental freedoms. Although the Commission expected membership talks
to continue in 2008, it is clear that some EU members and many EU citizens remain wary
about Turkey’s possible accession given its large size, relatively poor economy, and
In June 2004, the EU named Croatia as a candidate and opened accession talks with
that country on October 3, 2005, following a determination that Croatia was cooperating
fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Macedonia was given candidate status in December 2005, but has not yet secured a start
date for accession negotiations. The remaining western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia,
Serbia, Montenegro, and the region of Kosovo are all recognized as potential EU
candidates, although their accession prospects vary and are expected to take several years.
Prospects for Future Rounds of EU Enlargement
The EU maintains that the enlargement door remains open to any European country
that is able to meet the political and economic criteria for membership. The EU hopes
that the possibility of membership will help accelerate reform and promote greater
stability in those countries interested in eventually joining the EU. Ukraine and Georgia,
for example, have expressed long-term EU aspirations.
On the other hand, “enlargement fatigue” in the wake of the addition of 12 new
members in two years has become a serious issue in Europe and some experts believe that
enlargement may be reaching its limits. In November 2006, the European Commission
released a Strategy on Enlargement. The Strategy called for the EU to continue
5 “France Blocks Economic Chapter in EU-Turkey Talks,” Europolitics, June 26, 2007. For more
information, see CRS Report RL34039, Turkey’s 2007 Elections: Crisis of Identity and Power,
by Carol Migdalovitz.
enlargement but to take into account the Union’s “integration capacity,” which refers both
to applying rigorous conditionality with respect to candidate countries and to completing
institutional reforms and financing arrangements to sustain the EU’s ability to function.
The Strategy also called for the EU to honor its current commitments with prospective
members but to remain “cautious” about assuming any new commitments. Moreover,
under the accession structure, membership talks with any candidate country whose
accession could have substantial financial consequences on the Union as a whole, as
Turkey or Ukraine would have, can only be concluded after 2014, the scheduled date for
the beginning of the EU’s next budget framework.6
Although the new Lisbon Treaty, if ratified, would eliminate the technical hurdle to
enlarging beyond 27 members, analysts note that some newly elected European leaders
and many EU citizens are cautious about further enlargement. For the general public in
Europe, apprehensions about EU enlargement seem to be driven by several concerns. One
is that the addition of nations with weak economies, low incomes, and high
unemployment could wreak havoc with their own economies or prompt the influx of
unwanted migrant labor. A second issue is the belief that some of the newest members
have been admitted with less mature democratic institutions or glaring deficiencies in
meeting EU standards. Another concern is with the overall identity of Europe and what
the Union stands for; the Union’s struggle with these issues has been highlighted by the
possible admission of Turkey, a large Muslim state with a culture considered by many
Europeans to be vastly different and not compatible with Europe.
Successive U.S. Administrations and many Members of Congress have supported
EU enlargement, believing that it serves U.S. interests by spreading stability and
economic benefits throughout the continent. Over the years, a key criticism has been that
the process of EU enlargement was moving too slowly. U.S. businesses believe they will
gain access to a larger, more integrated European market, and see enlargement as forcing
further reform of the EU’s regulatory policies. Some analysts posit that enlargement may
also decrease overall U.S.-EU tensions because many new members are more pro-
American, especially those from the former communist eastern Europe. The Bush
Administration welcomed the EU’s enlargement in 2004, asserting that it would help
strengthen the “enduring partnership” between the United States and Europe.
Some U.S. officials are concerned that European public worries about EU
enlargement could hinder additional EU expansion, especially to Turkey and perhaps the
Balkans. Others argue that EU enlargement could have some negative implications for
U.S. interests. Some suggest, for instance, that political instability in a number of central
and eastern European countries may further complicate the EU’s ability to be a more
cohesive actor on the world stage if frequently changing governments shift policy
positions. On the other hand, others worry that a larger, more confident EU — with an
economic output roughly equivalent to that of the United States and growing political
clout — may increasingly rival U.S. power and prestige.
6 The Enlargement Strategy is available at the European Commission’s website:
[http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement]; also see “The Process of Joining the EU” on the Commission’s