Enlargement of the European Union

Enlargement of the European Union

In the 1950s, the EU began with just six member states. It now has 27. Growth in EU membership is known as ‘enlargement’, and it has happened several times.

Date and New Members:

  • 1950           Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands
  • 1973           Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom
  • 1981           Greece
  • 1986           Portugal, Spain
  • 1995           Austria, Finland, Sweden
  • 2004           Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
  • 2007           Bulgaria and Romania.

Accession criteria

Countries wishing to join the European Union must meet a certain number of criteria that were established by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993:

The European Union is open to all European candidate countries;
stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces within the European Union;
ability to incorporate the “acquis communautaire” of the Union. (Capacity of the candidate country to suscribe to the Union’s political, economic and monetary objectives).


The Commission draws up a detailed report on the political and economic situation of the country wishing to apply for membership. It also examines the country’s capacity to adopt the Union’s principles and rules, and makes a recommendation to the Council as to whether it should or should not begin negotiations for accession.

The candidate country then undertakes to prepare its accession, together with the Union, and to assume the necessary obligations within the time limits laid down. The time required for negotiations may vary from one country to another.


Two countries are currently candidates for accession: Turkey and Croatia.

Turkey has officially been a candidate since 1999. Croatia has been a candidate since June 2004.

Assistance and aid programmes

A range of programmes have been set up in the past to help candidate countries prepare their entry into the Union.

PHARE: offers financial aid for investment and reforms in the administrative and legal apparatus.
ISPA: co-funding of investments relating to the environment and transport.
SAPARD: financial support for agriculture and rural development.
Bulgaria and Romania benefit from these three programmes, which also apply to Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia until 2006.

As a Mediterranean country, Turkey benefits from the MEDA programme, as do Cyprus and Malta, but a pre-accession regulation for Turkey, dated December 2001, allows it to obtain specific financial aid to prepare for its accession. The pre-accession regulation for Cyprus and Malta dates from March 2000. Like Croatia, these two countries also took advantage of the CARDS programme, which facilitates participation in contracts and invitations to tender within the Union.

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