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The accession process: 1987-1994

Indietro    Avanti

Thanks to the recovery of market economy and, above all, to the reintroduction of multiparty elections in 1983, EU-Turkey relations started to get better again: this allowed Turkey to apply for membership in 1987, according to Article 237 of the EEC Treaty (1). In 1990, the Commission declared Turkey’s eligibility for membership, however underlining its perplexity and will to wait for a more favourable environment to proceed with the accession.

In 1993, the Member States drew up the essential conditions a candidate country must have to be part of the Union – the so called “Copenhagen criteria” (2).

a) Political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

The majority of the criteria formulated by the Copenhagen European Council represent a codification of the enlargement practices already existing before. Although it may seem there is no clear distinction between the principles of democracy and the rule of law, the combination of the the two consist of five elements:

  • free and fair elections;
  • the functioning of the legislature;
  • the functioning of the executive;
  • the functioning of the judiciary;
  • the fight against corruption.

b) Economic criteria, a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces: liberalized prices and trade, free market entry and exit, an adequate legal system and a developed financial sector.

Being competitive in the EU requires the existence of a functioning market economy, sufficient development of sectors such as education, research and infrastructure, adequate sectoral and enterprise structures, limited government intervention on competitiveness and sufficient integration with the EU in terms of trade and investment.

In July 1997, in the framework of the Copenhagen economic criteria for accession, the Commission’s report entitled “Agenda 2000” underlined the characteristics of a functioning market economy:

  • prices and trade liberalised;
  • enforceable legal system in place;
  • macroeconomic stability and accepted economic policy;
  • well-developed financial sector and absence of any significant barriers to market entry and exit.

c) ‘Acquis communautaire’: administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis and ability to take obligations of membership.

The acquis refers to the sum of rights and obligations that all members have to adopt, it is constantly evolving and includes:

  • the principles of the Treaties;
  • legislation in line with the Treaties and case law of the Court of Justice;
  • declarations and resolutions adopted by the Union;
  • guidelines of the Common Foreign and Security Policy;
  • international agreements concluded within the Union’s activities.

The starting step for a potential candidate to become a real candidate is to meet the first two Copenhagen criteria: political and economic. Only in a second stage, the candidate country’s administration has to work on the incorporation of the “Community acquis”, divided into 35 different chapters, such as economic and monetary policy, education and culture, environment, each of which negotiated separately. Sometimes, certain rules are gradually introduced, in order to give the new member and the existing members time to properly manage the transformation process. During the negotiations, the Commission monitors the candidate’s progress in applying EU legislation, keeping the EU Council and the European Parliament informed with regular reports, strategy papers and clarifications.

A further deepening of the Copenhagen criteria is the Article 49, introduced in 2007 in the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which governs accession by the Member States in the EU. A State that wishes to apply for membership has to satisfy two conditions: a) it must be a European state; b) it must respect the common values of the Member States and undertake to promote them: freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities (Article 2 of the TEU). The accession process is perfected through an Accession Treaty between the candidate country and the Member States, to be signed and ratified by all and with the expressed consent of the European Parliament.


1 Article 237 requires unanimity of the existing Member States for the admission of new Member States.

2 At the European Council of 1993 held in Copenhagen

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