Enlargement is the process whereby countries join the EU. Since it was founded in 1957, the EU has grown from 6 member countries to 27.
Any European country that respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the EU. A valid application triggers a series of evaluations in the light of the so-called Copenhagen criteria. These may result in a country being given the status of a 'candidate country'. If the country is sufficiently advanced in fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria, accession negotiations start: the applicants have to implement the body of EU law before they may become a member state.
When this process is completed, an 'accession treaty' is drawn up and signed by the candidate country and the EU Member States. The country can join the EU only once this treaty has been formally approved by the European Parliament and ratified by the candidate country and all the existing Member States.
Besides Croatia, with which an accession treaty was signed and is under ratification, there are currently eight candidate countries and potential candidates to which the EU has offered the prospect of membership.
The European Commission recommends for a fourth time to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It recommends granting EU candidate status to Albania subject to completion of key reform steps, and proposes negotiating a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo* once it has made progress in fulfilling a number of short term priorities. The Commission also confirmed that Croatia is on track in its membership preparations. In a set of annual reports, the Commission also assesses the progress towards EU accession made elsewhere in the Western Balkans, Turkey, and Iceland over the past year.
Croatia has been a candidate country since 2004 and is expected to become the EU's 28th member on 1 July 2013.
Iceland has been a candidate country since 2010.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became a candidate country in 2005.
Montenegro has been a candidate country since 2010.
Serbia has been a candidate country since 2012. It submitted its application for membership in 2009.
Turkey has been a candidate country since 1999.
Albania has been a potential candidate country since 2003 and submitted its application for membership in 2009.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a potential candidate country since 2003.
Kosovo has been a potential candidate since 2008.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.
Each year in the autumn, the European Commission adopts its 'Enlargement package': an overview of enlargement strategy and progress achieved towards EU accession in the Western Balkans (Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia as well as Kosovo), Turkey and Iceland.
Progress report 2012
On 10 October the European Commission published its annual overview of enlargement policy and the progress made towards EU accession in the Western Balkans, Turkey and Iceland.
EU - Iceland
Bosnia and Herzegovina