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Enlargement of the European Union: milestones and future outlook

For over fifty years, since the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community under the Schuman Plan in 1950, the European Communities and subsequently the European Union (EU) have brought their member states peace and stability.

What began with a population totalling 200 million in the six founding members of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands is now a grouping of 28 members with a population of more than half a billion. Today the European Union (EU) is the world’s largest economic region and also a community of values. Its members are committed to democracy, the rule of law, freedom and human rights, they conduct many aspects of policy on a community basis.

The six founding members were: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Six rounds of enlargement to date

Six rounds of enlargement have taken place to date:

  • 1 Jan. 1973: Accession of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom
  • 1 Jan. 1981: Accession of Greece
  • 1 Jan. 1986: Accession of Portugal and Spain
  • 1 Jan. 1995: Accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden
  • 1 May 2004: Accession of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia
  • 1 Jan. 2007: Accession of Bulgaria and Romania (end of the fifth round of enlargement)
  • 1 July 2013: Accession of Croatia

The so-called “eastern enlargement” of 1 May 2004, which brought ten new countries into the EU, was a great political and economic challenge as well as a great achievement – for the new and the old members, the people of these countries and the EU institutions. With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2007, the fifth and largest round of enlargement was concluded – and Europe’s division after World War II finally ended. Croatia’s accession on 1 July 2013 makes it the second country of the former Yugoslavia to join the European Union.

Enlargement – outlook for the future

Following the most recent accession of Croatia on 1 July 2013, the EU is now conducting accession negotiations with Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia. Negotiations with Iceland have been suspended. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania are official candidate countries. The remaining countries of the Western Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) have the status of potential candidate countries.

The EU’s enlargement policy has been a crucial agent of transformation in a large number of European countries. The prospect of EU membership has clearly given the candidate countries a major incentive to push ahead with reforms. The enlargement process has made for greater political and economic stability in Europe and strengthened freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The enlarged internal market has helped increase the EU’s competitiveness and prosperity. The enlarged EU of currently 28 members now carries greater clout in the international arena. As a global player, it is today better equipped to respond to global challenges such as climate change, environmental protection, competitiveness, migration and financial market regulation.


Last updated 15.07.2014

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