Developments to date
The radical changes of the years 1989 and 1990 put an end to the division of Europe and opened up a new historic chapter for our continent - with the European Union as a central player. Between 1994 and 1996 ten Central and Eastern European countries - Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - applied for EU membership. Cyprus and Malta had already applied in 1990. The European Union reacted quickly to this historic challenge by developing a pre-accession strategy for the Central and Eastern European countries.
The four accession criteria, known as the "Copenhagen criteria", set at the Copenhagen European Council in 1993, are the essential conditions all candidate countries must satisfy to become a Member State:
- Political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities;
- Economic criteria: the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
- The capacity to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to political, economic and monetary objectives;
- The European Union’s capacity to absorb new members while maintaining the momentum of European integration.
The accession negotiations which had been held since 1998 with the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia and since 2000 with Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia were concluded in 2002. Following the signing of the Accession Treaty, the successful completion of referendums in the new Member States and ratification by the old EU members, ten new Member States joined the European Union on 1 May 2004.
This round of enlargement did not yet include Bulgaria and Romania. Accession negotiations with these two countries were successfully concluded in December 2004 and their Accession Treaty signed in April 2005. Austria ratified this Accession Treaty on 11 May 2006. In its last monitoring report on Bulgaria and Romania of 26 September 2006, the Commission concluded that both countries were sufficiently prepared to carry the obligations of EU membership. To address the limited number of areas where further work will be necessary, the EU has adopted a package of accompanying measures. Meanwhile ratification of the Accession Treaty has been completed by all EU Member States and by Bulgaria and Romania.