Enlargement / Accession to the European Union

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Accession is the procedure to become a Member State of the European Union. The EU has defined conditions as well as a process to guide and assist potential candidate countries and candidate countries in preparing for the membership.

The European Union is open to all European countries (adhering to the principles of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law). After application of accession and agreement of the EU bodies and after meeting a certain number of conditions (political, economic criteria, etc.), negotiations are carried out.

In the case of the Western Balkan countries, the special framework is known as the stabilisation and association process. The accession negotiations cover adoption, implementation and application of EU law (acquis) by the respective countries. The acquis is divided into different chapters, each of which corresponds to a different area. The negotiations on any given chapter are concluded when the applicant country fulfills the benchmarks defined for closing a chapters – which will lead to the conclusion of the Accession Treaty to be ratified by the Member States and the acceding state.

Commission monitoring starts as soon as the request for accession is submitted and continues until the applicant country actually becomes a member of the EU. Monitoring takes the form of annual reports (Regular Reports) in which the Commission assesses how ready the applicant countries are to assume their obligations as Member States. 

Pre-accession financial assistance is intended to support the applicant countries’ transition and reforms with a view to strengthening the institutions and putting in place the infrastructures required to align them with and implement the acquis. It is also designed to promote regional and cross-border cooperation, regional development and prepare applicant countries to participate in the EU Structural Funds. Pre-accession assistance is funded through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) which is intended to be a flexible instrument, distributes financial aid depending on the progress made by the beneficiary countries and their needs, as indicated by the annual assessments and strategic documents prepared by the Commission. Moreover, applicant countries may also receive cofunding from international financial institutions with which the Commission has signed agreements. These agreements not only allow cooperation between these institutions to be reinforced but also loans and funds deployed in the pre-accession process to be channelled more effectively. The European Investment Bank (EIB), as the EU’s accredited financial institution, also plays a considerable role in this area.

Participation in EU programmes, agencies and committees is open to applicant countries and enables them to take part under the same terms as the Member States. The applicant countries make a financial contribution (e.g. through Association to the EU Framework Programme on Research and Innovation), part of which may be funded by the pre-accession financial assistance. However, in some programmes, the applicant countries only have the status of observers, their role in agencies varies from one agency to another and ranges from partial to full participation.

More information on the EU and Western Balkans and the activities of the European Commission: https://neighbourhood-enlargement.ec.europa.eu/enlargement-policy/enhanced-eu-engagement-western-balkans_en

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