The enlargement from a Community of six Member States (MS) to a Union of 27 is widely regarded as the EU’s greatest policy triumph. However even amongst those MS who have succeeded in joining, there have been significant differences in their experiences of the accession process. For current and potential candidate countries, completing the process is likely to prove even more challenging.
The legal basis for EU accession is a single treaty article. It provides only limited guidance, an indication of the politically-driven nature of the accession process. This process has not changed but it has developed considerably, in particular through the introduction of political and economic criteria (‘Copenhagen criteria’) and through an increased focus on conditionality in the EU’s enlargement strategy.
Nine States are currently within the EU’s enlargement framework and each present a different challenge. In the case of Turkey, the process has already been extremely lengthy. The Western Balkan countries, led by Croatia, have also had to overcome significant obstacles. By contrast there were initial suggestions that the application of Iceland, already a member of the European Economic Area and Schengen Zone, could be “fast-tracked”. However, its candidacy has equally met with some difficulties.