When a country applies to join the EU, it triggers a sequence of EU evaluation procedures that may, or may not, result in the country being invited to become a member.
The European Commission issues a formal opinion on the applicant country, after which the Council of the EU decides whether to accept the application. Once the Council unanimously agrees to begin accession negotiations, discussions may be formally opened provided that the applicant country has met the core conditions—the Copenhagen Criteria.
Negotiations in 35 separate policy areas (known as “chapters”) are conducted individually with each candidate country, proceeding from one stage of the process to the next, but only moving forward once all conditions have been met at each stage.
Once negotiations are concluded to the satisfaction of both sides, a detailed, comprehensive Draft Accession Treaty is submitted for approval by the Council of the EU, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. Once approved, the treaty is signed by the candidate country and the representatives of all EU Member States, after which it is submitted to all Member States and the candidate country for ratification, according to their respective constitutional rules.
Once the ratification process is complete, the treaty enters into force on its scheduled date, and the candidate country becomes an EU Member State.
Croatia, which became the EU’s 28th Member State on July 1, 2013, is the most recent country to join the European Union. Despite the turmoil that besieged the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia, today Croatia is a stable democracy with a functioning market economy.
Croatia presented its application in 2003 and was accepted as a candidate country the following year. Negotiations were launched on October 3, 2005, and EU and Croatian leaders signed Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty on December 9, 2011.
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