The European Union (EU) is an international organization made up of 27 European countries. The Union acts as a unified economic and political body, with 19 countries adopting the euro as its official currency. Some of the organization's goals are to promote peace, combat discrimination, and offer freedom, security, and justice without internal borders.
History of the European Union
The European Union was born out of a desire to create a single European political entity after World War II. Several western European countries wanted closer social, economic, and political ties to end warfare among the nations and encourage reconciliation between Germany and France.
The EU was first known as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It was founded in 1950 and had six members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. In 1993, the Maastricht Treaty created the modern-day EU, as well as the European Single Market. The euro debuted in 1999 as the currency of the EU.
Candidate countries must meet certain conditions to be part of the European Union. This criterion is known as the Copenhagen Criteria. According to the EU website, new members are only admitted when they comply with all of the EU’s rules and standards, have the consent of the EU institutions and members states, and have the support of their citizens.
Some of the requirements a country needs to meet to join the EU are: having a stable governmental institution that guarantees democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for minorities; a functioning market economy; and the ability to implement the obligations of the membership.
When countries apply to the EU, the Union can choose to open accession negotiations, which means evaluating whether the candidate country has adopted or implemented the EU rules (or acquis). These rules are divided into 35 different chapters, and all 35 need to be implemented in the country to the unanimous satisfaction of all existing EU members. A candidate may then have to make changes to their legislation to ensure it is in line with the acquis, and the EU checks each country to see if they have made the changes. The countries have to fully implement the EU legislation before they can be a member.
There are currently five countries that are in the process of achieving the requirements necessary to become members.
Albania is one of five countries currently a candidate for EU membership. Albania applied in 2009 and was granted candidate status in June 2014. The European Council embarked on a path to open accession negotiations with Albania in 2018, depending on its progress in areas such as the fight against corruption and organized crime. In 2020, accession negotiations began, and draft negotiating frameworks for Albania were presented to member states.
Montenegro applied for EU membership in 2008, after declaring independence from the federation of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. By 2010, the European Commission had a favorable opinion on its application and granted Montenegro candidate status, with seven areas identified as requiring improvement before negotiations could begin. Montenegro’s accession negotiations with the EU began in 2012, and after eight years, all 33 chapters have been opened, with three of them closed.
In 2004, North Macedonia applied for EU membership and received candidate status in 2005. After the country made significant progress and unanimously met the conditions set by the Council in 2018, accession negotiations with North Macedonia were opened in March 2020. In July 2020, the member states received a draft negotiation framework for the country.
Serbia applied in 2009, and the EU granted it candidate status in 2012. Once the EU adopted the accession negotiation framework with Serbia in 2013, an Intergovernmental Conference was held in 2014, officially beginning the negotiations. To date, Serbia has opened 18 chapters and closed two. The biggest hurdle Serbia faces in its bid to join the EU is its strained relationship with Kosovo. In 2020, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said it would reject EU membership if it has to recognize Kosovo without receiving any concessions in return.
Turkey’s involvement with European integration began in 1959 when it sought cooperation with the European Economic Community, an earlier form of the EU. In 1963, the Ankara Association Agreement was signed. This plan established a Customs Union that would see Turkey trade goods and agricultural products with other EEC countries without restrictions. Turkey applied to join the EEC in 1987 and was labelled a candidate country in 1999.
Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU began in 2005, but by 2006, the Council decided against opening eight negotiation chapters and not provisionally closing chapters until Turkey agreed to apply the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus. Turkey claims a northern portion of Cyprus, which is ethnic Turkish, is independent of the rest of the island, but this is not recognized by any other state besides Turkey, and so its relations with Cyprus are strained. In 2018, the General Affairs Council decided to freeze accession negotiations with Turkey, in part due to human rights abuses.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Since the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003, Bosnia and Herzegovina entered into several agreements with the EU, such as visa facilitation and trade-related issues. In 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for EU membership. Currently, the EU has identified 14 key priorities Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to fulfill before gaining candidate status and for accession negotiations to open.
The EU moved to increase cooperation with Kosovo after the country declared independence from Serbia in 2008. A Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo was initiated in 2014 and went into effect in 2016, with the goal of beginning the process of preparing the country to meet the requirements of EU membership. As of 2018, Kosovo has met all outstanding visa liberalization benchmarks, and a decision on the proposal for Kosovo's candidate status is pending in the European Parliament and the Council. However, the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo may hinder their entry into the EU. The EU will generally not consider candidates with open territorial issues, and currently, five EU members do not consider Kosovo as independent from Serbia.
Other Non-EU Countries
Currently, 23 European countries, including the candidates and potential candidates, are not part of the EU. In January 2020, the United Kingdom became the first country to leave the EU.
Several non-EU members participate in the Schengen Agreement, a treaty between European countries that abolishes their national borders, meaning citizens of these countries can travel without the need for a visa. The zone where people can move freely between these 26 European countries is called the Schengen Area.
Four non-EU members (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) have adopted the Agreement. Three territories that are part of the Schengen Area are special members of the EU: the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands. Three non-EU countries (Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City) have open borders with the Schengen Area but are not members.
The EU is considered an emerging global superpower, whose influence was hampered in the 21st century due to the Euro Crisis starting in 2008 and the United Kingdom's departure from the EU.
Being an EU member has its benefits, such as free trade with other members and the free movement of workers, but some potential drawbacks, especially if a country is not sufficiently prepared for a transition into the Union. Countries wanting to join need to meet strict guidelines, and the accession to membership can take an average of five years, but it could be more or less depending on how well the country incorporates and implements EU rules and standards. Turkey is a prime example of how the process can drag on for over decade, and still have a ways to go before resolution.