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Enlargement


Enlargement is the process whereby countries join the EU. Since it was founded in 1957, the EU has grown from 6 countries to 28.

Spreading prosperity and democracy

Over the past 50 years, widening EU membership has promoted economic growth and strengthened democratic forces in countries emerging from dictatorship.

Two girls sitting beside a water fountain, one draped in a Croatian flag © EU

Accession of Croatia - Welcome ceremony by the city of Strasbourg.

Uniting East and West

The 6 founding members of the EU in 1957 were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Several other West European countries joined after 1973.

Following the collapse of their regimes in 1989, many former communist countries from central and eastern Europe became EU members in 2 waves, between 2004 and 2007. In 2013, Croatia became the 28th country to join.

Full list of countries with year of joining

Who can join?

The Treaty on European Union states that any European country may apply for membership if it respects the EU's democratic values and is committed to promoting them.

But specifically, a country can only join if it meets all the membership criteria:

  • political – it must have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law and human rights
  • economic – it must have a functioning market economy and be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU
  • legal – it must accept established EU law and practice – especially the major goals of political, economic and monetary union.
Turkish market © Bilderbox.

Turkey is a candidate to join the EU.

How does it work?

The process has 3 stages (all subject to approval by all existing EU countries):

  1. a country is offered the prospect of membership
  2. the country becomes an official candidate for membership
  3. the candidate moves on to formal membership negotiations, a process that usually involves reforms to adopt established EU law.

When the negotiations and accompanying reforms have been completed to the satisfaction of both sides, the country can join the EU – again, if all existing EU countries agree.

Which countries might join next?

Currently the EU has offered the prospect of membership to 8 countries: Albania, Turkey, Iceland and all the countries of the former Yugoslavia (except Slovenia and Croatia, already EU members).

5 of these have been granted official candidate status:

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Enlargement

Published in August 2013

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series


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