10 years for Poland, 13 years for Croatia… If Volodymyr Zelensky wants things to go quickly, the facts speak against him. “If we say that Ukraine will join the EU in 6 months, 1 year or 2 years, we are lying. It’s not true. It’s probably 15 or 20 years, it’s very long ”, moreover confirmed this Sunday the new Minister Delegate for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. A true statement insofar as some countries, such as North Macedonia, have been officially candidates for 17 years and are still waiting for an answer… But why is it taking so long and how do you enter the European Union?
Candidate country status
This status, obtained after completing a long form (called the European questionnaire), is granted unanimously by the members of the Union. This is the first formal step in the membership process. It offers no guarantee as to its outcome.
If the application is validated, it opens the way to a pre-membership period. The country must become familiar with and train in European law and the numerous political procedures, through participation in targeted joint programmes. It can benefit from financial aid to undertake political, economic and institutional pre-reforms to bring them up to European standards.
At the same time, various indicators are beginning to be analyzed by commissions, such as the solidity of its economy, respect for the rule of law, etc.
All of these steps can take several years before leading to negotiations.
Opening of negotiations
Once the groundwork has been laid, a more in-depth review of the application begins. Formally, the candidate country must meet four criteria established by European law.
An economic criterion: the European Union being originally – and above all – an economic alliance, this criterion remains the most important and the longest to check. Once again, it is a matter of ensuring the resistance of the economy in the face of competition.
A political criterion: it is a question here of scrutinizing the institutions and the political context of the country: respect for the democratic process, the law, minorities and fundamental freedoms, etc.
The community acquis: this is the longest process to complete. The country must fully adhere to the community project and European values, and prove that it can submit to the various European obligations. Politically, this implies that the structure of its institutions should be compatible with the functioning of the decision-making bodies of the EU, such as the Commission or the European Court of Justice, for example. This is to ensure that a transfer of sovereignty and that the transposition of European law into national law is possible legislatively and administratively. The acquis communautaire consists of 35 chapters. The candidate develops his position on each of them, as a basis for negotiation. In the case of Turkey, the country obtained candidate status in 1999, negotiations began in 2005 before being blocked by France and Germany in 2007. The absence of a common border, the non-recognition of the he State of Armenia – member of the EU – and a GDP per capita considered too low (and therefore too costly in aid) were then mentioned as so many blocking points at the time.
Integration capacity: this is the only criterion that directly involves the European Union. This time, we check that the European institutions and the Community market are able to accommodate the new candidate.
During this long process, there were many back and forths: commissions, intergovernmental conferences, reports, etc.
Signature of the accession treaty and official entry into the EU
After the accession treaty has been signed by the candidate and the member countries, it must be ratified by all. Generally, it is the national parliaments that are called upon to vote. Some may hold a referendum. This was the case in 1972 in France for the accession of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Norway (the latter country having subsequently refused by referendum to join) to the European Community.
Extension of procedures
For decades, the general policy of the EU has focused on integrating as many countries as possible. Since 2019, this objective has been revised and the terms of entry have been tightened. A reform of the accession procedure has even been under study since 2020, by integrating a principle of “reversibility”, which would block negotiations on certain chapters or allow the reopening of others that have already been closed.
Europe in 2022: 27 members, 5 officially candidate countries, 4 pending requests, 3 refusals or withdrawals
Five countries are officially candidates: Turkey (since 1999, opening of negotiations in 2005), North Macedonia (2005, opening of negotiations in 2020), Montenegro (2010, opening of negotiations in 2012), Serbia (2012, opening of negotiations in 2014) and Albania (2014, opening of negotiations in 2020).
Four days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latter submitted an application for membership to the European Union on February 28, 2022. This application was followed by those of Moldova and Georgia on March 3, 2022. Bosnia and Herzegovina applied in 2015 and is awaiting a response from the EU.
Note: three countries withdrew their candidacy, Switzerland and Norway following a referendum and Iceland. Morocco’s candidacy was rejected.
letelegramme Fr Trans