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Welcome to!
EU Fact Sheet 4 – Enlargement)



  The Parliament in Bulgaria


Accession process

According to Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, any European country may apply for membership if it respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States' (Article 6.1 TEU). Accession, however, can only follow if the given European country fulfils all criteria of accession which were fixed by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993 and reinforced by the European Council in Madrid in 1995. These criteria are:

  • political: stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for protection of minorities;

  • economic: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;

  • the capacity to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the objectives of political, economic and monetary union;

  • adoption of the acquis communautaire and its effective implementation through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.

In addition, the EU must be able to absorb new members, so it reserves the right to decide when it will be ready to accept them


How does a country join the EU

A country that wishes to join the EU submits an application for membership to the Council, which asks the Commission to assess the applicant’s ability to meet the conditions of membership. If the Commission delivers a positive opinion, and the Council unanimously agrees a negotiating mandate, negotiations are formally opened between the candidate and all the member states.

Pre-accession strategy

the pre-accession strategy is designed to prepare the candidate countries for future membership. It encompasses the following frameworks and mechanisms:

  • Europe Agreements/Association Agreements/Stabilisation and Association Agreements

  • Accession Partnerships/European Partnerships

  • Pre-accession assistance





  • The Phare programme applies to the acceding and candidate countries, and principally involves Institution Building measures (with accompanying Investment) as well as measures designed to promote Economic and Social Cohesion.

  • The Phare programme entails national, multi-beneficiary and cross-border projects.

  • It comes under the responsibility of the Directorate-General for Enlargement, which is also responsible for overall co-ordination of pre-accession assistance (including ISPA and SAPARD programmes).

  • According to each country's level of preparation, PHARE programmes are implemented under centralised or decentralized management structure. Under the Decentralized Implementation System (DIS), the national implementing authorities are still subject to ex-ante control by the local EC Delegation. In a further step, under the Extended Decentralized Implementation System (EDIS), the national implementing authorities are no longer subject to ex-ante control by the local EC Delegation.

  • The ISPA programme deals with large-scale environment and transport investment support, and comes under the responsibility of the Directorate-General for Regional Policy.

  • The SAPARD programme supports agricultural and rural development and comes under the responsibility of the Directorate-General for Agriculture.


  • Co-financing from International Financing Institutions

  • Participation in EU Programmes, Agencies and Committees

  • National Programme for the adoption of the acquis

  • Regular/Progress Reports

  • Political Dialogue


The first step in negotiations is the so called “screening”. It is an analytical examination of the acquis. The purpose of screening is to explain the acquis to the candidate countries and, with them, to identify areas where there may be problems to be addressed.

As a basis for launching the actual, technical negotiation process, the Commission establishes a “screening report” for each chapter and each country.

Candidate country submits a negotiating position. The Commission submits to the Council a Draft Common Position (DCP). The Council adopts a common position allowing opening of the chapters.

Negotiating sessions are held at the level of ministers or deputies, i.e. Permanent Representatives for the Member states, and Ambassadors or chief negotiators for the candidates.

Monitoring and review procedure

The Commission keeps duly informed the Council and the Parliament about the candidates' preparations for membership with help of the so called “Monitoring reports”. They also serve to guide the candidate countries in their preparations.

Peer reviews cover the most problematic issues identified in the Monitoring Reports.

Before envisaged accession, the Commission produces a Comprehensive Monitoring Report. This report serves as a basis to decide on any possible remedial measure to be taken by the Commission in its role as a guardian of the Treaties. Such measures include safeguards, infringement proceedings or financial management measures.

Regular/Progress Reports (review procedure) have the purpose to assess progress achieved by each country in preparation for accession.

The Ratification Process and Accession

Once negotiations are concluded on all chapters the results of the negotiations are incorporated in a draft Accession Treaty, which is agreed between the Council and the acceding countries. This draft Treaty is subsequently submitted to the Commission for its opinion and to the European Parliament for its assent. After signature, the Accession Treaty is submitted to the Member States and to each acceding country concerned for ratification by them in accordance with their own constitutional procedures. When the ratification process has been concluded and the Treaty takes effect, the candidate becomes a Member State.

The Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP)

The Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) is a part of the enlargement process. It is the framework for the European course of the Western Balkan countries all the way to their future accession.