The European Union originally consisted of six member states. It has since grown to 25 member states, and even more states plan to join: two new members in 2007 with even more after that. All in all a union of more than 30 states is fully within reach. This process is known as the European integration.
In order to join the Union, a state needs to fulfill the economic and political conditions generally known as the Copenhagen criteria (after the Copenhagen summit in June 1993). Also, according to the EU Treaty, each current member state and the European Parliament have to agree.
For details see History of the European Union.
Official candidates for membership
Scheduled 2007 enlargement
Bulgaria and Romania have been recommended to join the EU on January 1, 2007. These dates were firmly set at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 and confirmed a year later at Brussels on June 18, 2004. The country reports of October 2004 also confirmed the January 1 2007 date of accession for both Bulgaria and Romania.
Bulgaria is set to join the EU in 2007. Bulgaria has already taken steps to integrate itself with the EU, including unilaterally linking its currency to the Euro (Lithuania and Estonia also did this before entry). It closed entry negotiation talks in June 2004 and received confirmation from the EU that it would join in 2007 as planned.
On 8 December 2004, Romania closed the last remaining chapters of the acquis communautaire (that is the EU's body of law) and so concluded the accession negotiations with the EU. It is set to sign a common Accession Treaty with Bulgaria in the spring of 2005 and join the EU in 2007.
However, before becoming a full member Romania must fulfill all its outstanding promises and reforms agreed during the negotiation phase. A safeguard clause has been included that gives the EU the possibility of delaying entry to Romania (and Bulgaria) for one year if commitments made by these countries are not met. It is believed that Romania's accession is more likely to require such a delay than Bulgaria's.
Negotiated post-2007 enlargement
Croatia applied for EU membership on 21 February 2003. The European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in early 2004. At the European Council on 18 June 2004, the heads of governments of the European Union granted candidate country status to Croatia. At the summit of December 20, 2004, the EU leaders decided that Croatia will start negotiations on March 17, 2005, provided that it continues cooperating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). On March 16, 2005, the European Union postponed the negotiations with Croatia because the ICTY prosecution assessed the Croatian efforts to capture the renegade general Ante Gotovina as neither timely nor sufficient. The General has been indicted at the ICTY of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and has been at large since 2001.
The EU officials mentioned the possibility of joining at the same time as Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, although it depended mainly on Croatia's fulfillment of the conditions for joining. Croatia has been aiming for membership in 2007 alongside Romania and Bulgaria, although this is unlikely because it would have to break Slovakia's record of 2.5 years of negotiations to complete the process (finalise all 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire and sign the Accession Treaty). A more realistic date circulated by EU officials has been 2009.
After Slovenia, Croatia has recovered best from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and so hopes to become the second former Yugoslav state to become a member. It has a stable market economy and better statistical indicators than some of the states that joined in 2004. However, Croatia's EU bid may be hampered with several mainly political problems, most of which are remnants of the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The relations with the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal have repeatedly been cited by the EU officials as something that requires further improvement, and some EU countries had stalled the ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Croatia because of this.
There are also long-standing border issues with Slovenia: a series of border incidents have happened and they threaten Slovenia's support for Croatia's accession, but the otherwise good trade relations between the two countries have so far precluded such a thing.
Before starting negotiations with Croatia, the acquis communautaire was split up further, into 36 instead of 31 chapters. The new chapters are areas, previously part of the agricultural policy, that are expected to be troublesome as they were with the other applicants.
Main article: Accession of Turkey to the European Union
The status of Turkey with regard to the EU has become a matter of major significance and considerable controversy in recent years. Turkey has been an Associate Member of the EU and its predecessors since 1963, formally applied in 1987 and was recognised as a candidate in 1999. On December 17th, 2004 an EU summit concluded that membership negotiations with Turkey will be opened on October 3rd, 2005.
Arguments in favour of Turkey joining include the belief that this would strengthen democratic institutions in Turkey, strengthen the EU economy, and reward Turkey for its strong and consistent pro-NATO stance. Proponents also argue that it abides all conditions for accession. Some believe that the EU cannot refuse Turkey anymore as it has had an open candidacy for 40 years now.
Arguments against Turkey's accession are diverse. Firstly, only a small fraction of Turkish territory lies in Europe. More importantly, Turkey refuses to recognise Cyprus, a current EU member, and it is waging an economic war against Armenia. Many opponents also argue that Turkey's current government still does not respect many of the key principles of the secular democracy because it maintains discrimination against non-Muslims, women and ethnic minorities, and that it appears unwilling to fully respect the EU rules and values.
Future enlargement applicants and possibilities
The European Union has had a tendency to enlarge along regional lines, adding groups of nearby nations. (A notable exception was the Greek integration.) At present the EU is very interested in the integration of the Balkan states and Turkey. Of Eastern Europe, Heather Grabbe of the Centre for European Reform has said that "Belarus is too authoritarian, Moldova too poor, Ukraine too large and Russia too scary for the EU to contemplate offering membership any time soon." Due to Ukraine's recent (2004) "Orange Revolution" and Georgia's recent (2003) "Rose Revolution" which have led to reform programmes, there may still be an open door for both Ukraine and the South Caucasus.
The following sections discuss the situation of those states, which possess European territory or have expressed a desire to join the EU.
In the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49), it is stated that any European country that respects the principles of the European Union may apply to join. Therefore any European state could apply and be accepted to join. The definition of the limitations of Europe can be contraversial but countries on the Council of Europe that fall into the grey area of Eurasia such as Cyprus all have a significant claim for EU membership.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (which disintegrated into the states of Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia) was a non-democratic communist state, with a relatively benign regime compared to Soviet satellites. It had a good economy and many lived higher above the poverty line than those of members Greece, Spain and Portugal. The civil war changed this but has led to independent democratic states, which have all adopted EU integration as an aim of foreign policy.
Albania, a separate Balkan state, was for a long period under international isolation similar to that of modern day North Korea and very impoverished. It has also adopted EU integration as an aim.
The Thessaloniki Summit (2003) set integration of the Western-Balkans as a priority of EU expansion. A further meeting in Mamaia, Romania, concluded that "Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Republic of Macedonia, and Albania are considered likely to join the EU between 2010 and 2015" depending on their fulfilment of the adhesion criteria. This summit was attended by two EU members, five countries now in the EU and the nine EU hopefuls Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Moldova and Ukraine.
Republic of Macedonia
The Republic of Macedonia applied to become an official candidate on 22 March 2004. The European Commission is expected to offer a recommendation on the Macedonian candidacy in November 2005.
The country will have to resolve its disputes with Greece (over the name Macedonia), or at least improve relations, before it could become a member state. A fragile peace is maintained with underlying ethnic tensions over Albanians in the west demanding greater autonomy. Unlike Serbia it still maintains sovereignty over all its territory. Macedonian officials have suggested that it could join between 2010 and 2015.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina still has many economic as well as political problems. Recently it has been making slow but steady progress, including co-operation with the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, so the outlook is positive.
The Union may show some leniency regarding its economy due to the political issues at stake. Romano Prodi has stated that Bosnia has a chance of joining the EU soon after Croatia, somewhere around 2010, but it is entirely dependent on progress and that it may be delayed as late as 2014.
Serbia and Montenegro
Serbia and Montenegro may join separately because of economic disputes between the two republics which still have to settle the decision of whether to continue in a union (around 2006).
Serbia has to deal with ethnic tensions in the region of Kosovo (that may lead to independence for Kosovo) as well as poverty in the south and widespread corruption. Montenegro is experiencing ecological, justice and crime problems. Serbia and Montenegro started the reform process in 2000.
The European Commission and the government of Serbia and Montenegro are currently planning to prepare the country for joining in 2012, together with Bosnia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In a report published on 12 April, 2005, the European Commission gave a positive recommendation for the start of talks on a Stabilisation and Accession Agreement which it hopes will be ratified in 2006. 
Albania's accession to the Union depends on economic improvement and the resolution of border disputes. Given its comparatively recent engagement with Western European politics, it is impossible to predict when it may join but it hopes to do so within a decade. Its entry has been set as a priority by the European Commission so as to stabilise the Balkans. Albania hopes to join with the rest of the Balkans between 2010-2015.
European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
Switzerland took part in negotiating the EEA agreement with the EU and signed the agreement on 2 May 1992 and submitted an application for accession to the EU on 20 May 1992. A Swiss referendum held on 6 December 1992 rejected EEA membership. As a consequence, the Swiss Government decided to suspend negotiations for EU accession until further notice, but its application remains open. The popular initiative entitled "Yes to Europe!", calling for the opening of immediate negotiations for EU membership, was rejected on March 4, 2001). The Swiss Federal Council (which is in favour of EU membership) had advised the population to vote against this referendum since the preconditions for the opening of negotiations had not been met. It is thought that the fear of a loss of neutrality and independence is the key issue against membership among eurosceptics. EU membership however continues to be the objective of the government and is a "long-term aim" of the Federal Council. The Swiss federal government policy has recently undergone substantial U-turns in policy, however, concerning specific agreements with the EU on freedom of movement for people, workers and areas concerning tax evasion have been addressed within the Swiss banking system. This was a result of the first Switzerland-EU summit in May 2004 where nine bilateral agreements were signed. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, said the agreements "moved Switzerland closer to Europe." President Deiss said, "We might not be at the very centre of Europe but we're definitely at the heart of Europe". He continued, "We're beginning a new era of relations between our two entities." .
Norway, like most other Scandinavian states, is reluctant to surrender sovereignty to a supranational entity. The Norwegian government also wishes to keep control of fishery resources in their territorial waters. Norway has applied twice for EEC and EU membership, but the two referenda on the issue in 1972 and 1994 were lost by the government. In late 2004, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik suggested that the debate about joining the EU might be restarted in 2007.
Thorbjørn Jagland has proposed that Norway and Iceland should prepare a common strategy before launching membership negotiations with the EU. His Icelandic counterpart has expressed agreement.
Iceland has never applied for EU membership but is already associated with the union through the EEA where it has access to the Single market, Iceland is also a member of the Schengen treaty.
Application for EU membership is not on the current centre-right government's agenda and none of the political parties have explicitly expressed that Iceland should join the union. The Left-Green Movement has been firmly opposed to membership and the same goes for the conservative Independence Party, a member of the ruling coalition, although its chairman Davíð Oddsson indicated in a speech in January 2005 that a policy change was not ruled out depending on how the EU will evolve in coming years.
Fear of losing control over the fishery resources in its territorial waters is the single largest issue keeping Iceland reluctant to join the EU, also a large issue for Norway. Since these two countries have so much in common it is generally expected that they would join together as it would not be easy for Iceland to be the only Nordic country to remain outside the EU. Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson of the Progressive Party is regarded as willing to start working on negotiation strategies, however a policy change within the Independence Party or a different government would be needed before membership negotiations could start.
Liechtenstein, is (like Norway and Iceland) a member of the European Economic Area. It might consider joining the EU if Switzerland joined. If it attained membership it would be by far the smallest member state of the European Union -- this might require a significant rearrangement of voting arrangements in the European Parliament.
These states have been the site of much conflict in 1990s. Currently, there seems to be an overwhelming feeling of hope in the region's future. Their membership in the EU would be controversial as they are often considered to be politically in Europe but not geographically. They have contributed to European culture and the EU has been said to express interest in their integration and the hope to end war in Europe and increase prosperity.
The Caucasus states are, however, closely linked with Russia and would need to concentrate more on their European partners to attain candidate membership. It is unclear as to when they may join but they are part of the EU Neighbourhood policy and are often referred to as part of "a wider Europe". Since their only land contact with existing EU states is through either Russia or Turkey, it is possible that they could only join after Turkey did so. Greece, a member since 1981, has no land links with the rest of the EU, and will not until both Romania and Bulgaria have joined, though Greece is considerably closer to the rest of the union and unencumbered by powerful neighbours like Russia in between.
Georgia has recently undergone substantial reforms. Under Georgia's new president Mikhail Saakashvili, the wish to join the EU has been explicitly expressed on several occasions and the links to the EU and the USA are being strengthened. Disputes continue over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In Ajaria, the authoritarian leader Aslan Abashidze was forced to resign in May 2004.
Georgia is the most favoured Caucasus country to join the EU, but territorial disputes and corruption are still an issue. It has not, as yet, applied for EU membership, but the President has said the country would be ready in three years' time—however, it is uncertain if the EU would be. It is debatable whether any estimate on a membership date can be made at this stage.
Armenia is still in conflict over the disputed area Nagorno-Karabakh with neighbouring Azerbaijan. A ten year ceasefire has been in place, but tensions are high, and with Azeri military spending on the increase, there is fear a war could be at hand. The country's economy is growing, but at an incredibly slow pace. Foreign investors are said to be extremely wary. Armenia is also in the embarrassing position of losing 20% of its population in recent years to hopes of a better life abroad.
Whilst Armenia shares European culture, it has not expressed the wish to join the EU, although public opinion suggests the move for membership would be welcomed. It will have to resolve disputes and battle corruption. The Metsamor nuclear power plant, which is sited some 40km west of the Armenian capital Yerevan, is built on top of one of the world's most active seismic zones and so would have to be closed for any contemplation of their joining. Recently Armenia has told the EU they will not close the plant, which has led to the freezing of €100m worth of aid by the EU and deterioration of the Armenia-EU relationship. No speculation into Armenia's dates of membership can currently be made but of all the nations of the Caucasus it is the least favoured due to fewer natural resources and its close relationship with Russia.
Azerbaijan is a predominantly Muslim country and is not thought to share a lot with European culture. Conflict over the disputed area Nagorno-Karabakh would need to be resolved. Its military spending is becoming somewhat of an alarm to the EU, which wishes to ease tensions in the area. The oil-rich country has made improvements to its infrastructure but much of the money does not seem to find its way into its fragile economy.
The recent presidential elections in Azerbaijan were disputed by the opposition and have been criticised for being not entirely democratic, free or fair by international observers. This is one of the main obstacles ahead of a possible EU application from Azerbaijan, although it has not expressed wishes to join the EU but, if it did, one can assume that integration would be long delayed. It would most likely face difficulties similar to Turkey's. Azerbaijan's chances of membership would, however, be greatly increased if Georgia joined first.
Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which are or have been closely linked to Russia, will probably remain outside the Union, at least for a significant amount of time. All belong to the CIS and planned furthur integration into an EU-like model would hinder European aspirations. They are not currently on any enlargement agenda as the Union is currently focused on the Balkan states and Turkey but after this inevitable enlargement it is probable that they will be the logical next wave of enlargement. A summit in Mamaia, Eastern Romania, in May 2004 has shown this to be the case, though only Ukraine and Moldova were present, as Belarus is currently not concerned with membership. (Also note that the EU's Neighbourhood Policy includes these three states.)
Most political factions of Ukraine advocate joining the EU and developing ties with Europe. However many in the EU are more doubtful concerning Ukraine's prospects. In 2002, EU Expansion Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said that "a European perspective" for Ukraine does not necessarily mean membership in 10 or 20 years, however, that does not mean it is not a possibility. A Ukraine-EU Troika meeting in April 2004, on the eve of the newest wave of expansion, dealt a blow to Ukraine's European aspiration when the EU ministers failed to grant market economy status to Ukraine.
For the time being, Ukraine will most likely develop some sort of intermediate relation with the EU as it is strongly backed by all major political forces in Poland, an EU member with strong historical ties with Ukraine (through the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth).
The Orange Revolution of late 2004, however, significantly improved Ukraine's European prospects: Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko hinted that he would press the EU for deeper ties, and described a four-point plan: the acknowledgement of Ukraine as a market economy, entry in the World Trade Organisation, associate membership with the European Union, and lastly full membership.  In a similar way, the Ukrainian government asked Brussels to give Ukraine a clearer prospect for membership, saying that "The approved Action Plan reflects only the level of Ukraine-EU relations that we could have reached before the presidential elections in 2004" 
On January 13, 2005 the European Parliament almost unanimously (467 votes to 19 in favour) passed a motion stating the wish of the European Parliament to establish closer ties with Ukraine with the possibility of EU membership. Though there is still a long way to go before negotiations about EU membership can start, the European Commission has stated that future EU membership will not be ruled out. Yushchenko has responded to the apathetic mood of the Commission by stating that he intends to send an application for EU membership "in the near future" and that he intends to scrutinise Ukraine's relationship with the CIS in order to assure EU integration is possible and if not to make it possible. Several EU leaders have already stated support for closer economic ties with the Ukraine but have stopped short of direct support for such a bid. On 21 March 2005, Polish Foreign Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld noted that Poland will in every way promote Ukraine's desire to be integrated with the EU, get the status of a market-economy country and join the WTO. He also said "At the present moment, we should talk concrete steps in cooperation instead of engaging in empty talk about European integration". Three days later, a poll of the six largest EU nations conducted by a French research company showed that the European public would be more likely to accept Ukraine as a future EU member than any other country.
Moldova currently has little hope of joining, since it is not only hampered by poverty but currently leaning more towards Russia (through the CIS) than the EU and facing political problems in Transnistria and only recently (1995) resolved problems in ethnically separate Gagauzia. Its relationship with Romania, which is set to soon become a EU member, has also been strained, with Moldova publicly accusing Romania in various aspects. The prospect of union with Romania is constantly an issue, even though many people are expecting this not to happen. If Romania joins the EU, and Moldova unifies with the country later, it could automatically become part of the EU just as East Germany joined the EU when it reunified with West Germany in 1990.
The government has stated that Moldova has European aspirations but there has been little progress. On May 1, 2004 many EU enthusiasts waving the EU flags found their flags confiscated by police and some were arrested under the clause of "anti-nationalism." At present it remains the poorest country in Europe with rampant corruption and a sadly booming trade in people.
Belarus is presently perceived by many to be too authoritarian to join the EU, having been often called the last dictatorship in Europe. It has a fairly high standard of living in comparison to Moldova and Ukraine, but private business is virtually non-existent. Foreign investors stay away and even Moscow has shown signs of exasperation in recent years. If conditions remain the same, it is unlikely that Belarus will ever join the EU.
However, a large Belarusian student group Zubr have linked themselves to Otpor, Kmara and Pora, all movements, which helped to oust rulers in a peaceful revolutionary manner. If dictatorship were replaced by democracy, as is becoming an increasing trend in countries previously part of the USSR and/or communist, membership would quite likely be a final aim of the Union as well as the country.
At present, the prospect of Russia joining any time in the near future is slim.
Under the new voting system proposed in the draft EU Constitution Russia would cause a huge imbalance within the union due to its large population. It also faces the problem in that its territory is mostly in Asia, similar to Turkey (although unlike Turkey, most major population centres, and the centres of power, are in European Russia).
The gap between the rich and the poor is extremely large, the economy needs improvement and corruption is also a major issue. Added to this the view by some European states that Russia is fuelling conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria for its own gain make any prospect of membership very slim.
Russia is also thought to be too authoritarian. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have recently declared the Russian press to be controlled. Human rights continue to be an issue and the suspicion cast on Russia after years of communism is still vast. There are also numerous disputes within the Federation, especially in Chechnya.
Russian relationships with Europe and the USA have improved with a NATO-Russia pact being proposed as well as EU support for WTO membership and EU-Russia bilateral meetings, but the Kaliningrad exclave is still an issue as well as the fact that Russia has not yet ratified treaties recognising the territorial integrity of Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia. Should Russia apply to join, steps similar to Turkey's would have to be followed. The earliest it could join would be the year 2020, although at this stage, any speculation on its entry remains very premature.
Kazakhstan has a portion of its territory in Europe, but the subject of joining the EU has not been even remotely discussed.
As for the other very small European microstates, such as San Marino, Andorra and Monaco, it is unlikely that they will ever join, as their very existence as sovereign nations is tightly bound up with their special economic laws, which are not compatible with EU standards. In the case of Andorra, however, a future accession to the EU is not entirely impossible, should either Andorra reform their fiscal system or the EU reform its stance on interaction with microstates . The Vatican City is also unlikely to join the EU due to its unique status.
Despite the fact that Europe's microstates will probably remain politically separated from the EU for the foreseeable future, their economies have always been tightly related with their neighbours, and all of the microstates (save Liechtenstein, which uses the Swiss franc), use the Euro currency (of these four eurozone microstates all but Andorra mint their own Euro coins as well).
In the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49), it is stated that any European country that respects the principles of the European Union may apply to join. No mention is made of enlarging the EU to include non-European countries, but the precedents with turning off Morocco's application and speaking about Israel's closest integration, "just short of full membership" show that currently it is impossible for non-European states to get full EU membership.
However, some non-European states have different degrees of integration with the EU stipulated by agreements, always short of membership. The current frameworks for development of such agreements are the Barcelona process and the European Neighbourhood Policy .
Southern Mediterranean (Maghreb) states
Tunisia entered into an Association Agreement with the European Union in 1995 which started removing tariffs and other trade barriers on most goods in the 1998-2008 period. Once the free trade area is fully functional, the status of Tunisia with regards to the EU will be similar to the present status of Norway and Iceland. However, no further involvement is planned beyond that point.
Morocco has submitted applications to join the EU several times, but it has been turned down since it is not considered a European country. Other factors such as the developing economy or unresolved border issues with several of its neighbours and the occupation of Western Sahara are hindering even adoption of other policies like those applied to Tunisia (path to closest possible integration without full membership).
The Israeli government has hinted several times that a EU membership bid is a possibility. It is unknown whether talks will begin, given the current instability in the Middle East. How Israel's Law of Return would interact with the free migration of citizens within Europe is also an unresolved issue.
As in the cases of Tunisia and Morocco, the status of being geographically outside Europe will preclude its inclusion as full member into the EU as well, but it can get a large degree of integration through the current and future EU Neighbourhood Policies - the Spanish foreign minister Moratinos spoke out for a 'privileged partnership, offering all the benefits of EU membership, without participation in the institutions'). On 11 January 2005, industry commissioner and vice president of the commission Günter Verheugen even suggested the possibility of a monetary union and common market with Israel.
Cape Verde is an island nation of the Atlantic Ocean and former Portuguese colony. In March 2005, former Portuguese president Mario Soares launched a petition urging the European Union to start membership talks with it, saying that Cape Verde could act as a bridge between the United States, Latin America and the EU .
Although the Cape Verde archipelago is closer to Africa than to Europe, there has been a similar situation previously: Cyprus is an island state that is closer to Asia than to Europe, however it has already joined the Council of Europe and the EU.