Enlargement of the European Union: An examination of the criteria for accession in light of the Union’s objectives
Abstract: Enlargement, the process whereby countries join the European Union (EU), has had a key role in the Union’s development. Since its founding, the EU has grown from six to twenty-seven Member States, in a total of seven enlargement rounds. Currently, five countries are candidates for membership: Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia and Turkey. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are recognised as potential candidates. To be eligible for membership, the country must meet the conditions laid down in Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union. It provides that any European state which respects the EU’s values and is committed to promoting them can apply to become a member. In addition, the candidate state must meet a set of political, economic and legal conditions commonly known as the Copenhagen criteria before it can accede. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the criteria for accession, in order to determine whether the EU’s approach to enlargement is effective in light of the Union’s aims and objectives. The focus lies on the political accession criteria, which require the state to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. Using a combination of legal dogmatic and EU legal method, the thesis studies the development and application of the criteria during past and ongoing enlargement processes. It is concluded that the EU’s approach to enlargement is lacking in several regards. It has been unable to ensure adherence to the Union’s values, which has become an issue post-accession in several EU Member States. Due to the close legal ties within the Union, this threatens the functioning of mutual trust mechanisms, which are an essential to achieving key EU objectives such as the internal market and the Area of Freedom and Justice. The problems with enlargement can partly be credited to the inconsistent and incoherent application of the accession criteria, caused by the complex enlargement procedure and the inherent vagueness of the criteria themselves. Many of the issues have remained in the ongoing enlargement process, and there has been an inability to ensure the reforms necessary for the current candidate states to accede. This has resulted in a lack of credibility of the EU’s approach to enlargement, which may further destabilize an already troubled region. That could in turn affect the achievement of fundamental EU objectives of peace and security. It is therefore concluded that the EU’s approach to enlargement is not effective in light of the Union’s aims.
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