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Enlargement / Accession to the European Union

Accession is the procedure to become a Member State of the European Union.

The EU has defined conditions as well as a process to guide and assist potential candidate countries and candidate countries in preparing for the membership.

The European Union is open to all European countries (adhering to the principles of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law). After application of accession and agreement of the EU bodies and after meeting a certain number of conditions (political, economic criteria, etc.), negotiations are carried out.

In the case of the Western Balkan countries, the road map proposed by the Commission in 2005 and endorsed by the Council in 2006 provides that satisfactory performance in meeting the obligations stemming from a country's stabilization and association agreement (especially the provisions on trade) will be one of the key elements on which the EU will base its scrutiny of any application for accession.

The accession negotiations cover adoption, implementation and application of EU law (acquis) by the respective countries.

The negotiations are based on the acquis which is divided into chapters, each of which corresponds to a different area of it. The negotiations start with a preparatory phase or a screening of the acquis which is conducted by the Commission. This is intended to assess the degree of preparation of applicant countries, to familiarise them with the acquis and identify the chapters which are to be opened on the basis of the benchmarks defined for each one. The benchmarks cover the essential preparatory stages for future alignment with the acquis and complying with the contractual obligations under the association agreements linked with it. 

The negotiations on any given chapter are concluded when the applicant country fulfills the benchmarks defined for closing a chapter (Science and Innovation is one of these chapters).

Once the negotiations on all the chapters have been completed, the accession processes comes to an end and an agreement, called the Accession Treaty, may be concluded between the Member States and the applicant country to mark accession. During the period between the conclusion of the Accession Treaty and the accession date, the treaty is subject to ratification by all the Member States and the future Member State. The applicant country then becomes an acceding State.

Instruments in the accession process (see

A pre-accession strategy is defined for each accession process and for each applicant country in order to help them to prepare for their future accession.

Bilateral agreements concluded between the EU and each applicant country provide a bilateral framework for dialogue and negotiations.

Political and economic dialogues on political criteria and economic and convergence criteria take place between the EU and each applicant country to consolidate the process. The results of these are incorporated in the accession negotiations.

Accession partnerships for each applicant country form an individual framework to help them prepare for accession. They set out in detail the principles and priority areas (in the form of short-and medium-term priorities).

National programmes for the adoption of the acquis (NPAA) are provided for by the accession partnerships and are drawn up by each applicant country. They set out a timetable for implementing the priorities defined by the accession partnership and the human and financial resources allocated to this purpose.

Participation in EU programmes, agencies and committees is open to applicant countries and enables them to take part under the same terms as the Member States. The applicant countries make a financial contribution (e.g. through Association to the 7th EU Framework Programme), part of which may be funded by the pre-accession financial assistance. However, in some programmes, the applicant countries only have the status of observers, their role in agencies varies from one agency to another and ranges from partial to full participation.

Commission monitoring starts as soon as the request for accession is submitted and continues until the applicant country actually becomes a member of the EU. Monitoring takes the form of annual reports (Regular Reports) in which the Commission assesses how ready the applicant countries are to assume their obligations as Member States. 

Civil Society Dialogue is intended to involve civil society in the EU and the applicant countries in the accession process and has assumed a higher profile with the need for civil society engagement in the EU; in this specific context it is also intended to increase mutual understanding and knowledge.

Pre-accession aid is intended to support the applicant countries' transition and reforms with a view to strengthening the institutions and putting in place the infrastructures required to align them with and implement the acquis. It is also designed to promote regional and cross-border cooperation, regional development and prepare applicant countries to participate in the EU Structural Funds.

Pre-accession assistance is funded through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) (2007-2013) and IPA II, the follow-up programme (2014-2020) respectively.

For the period 2007-13, the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) provides the financial aid for applicant countries (and potential applicant countries from the Western Balkan States). The IPA, which is intended to be a flexible instrument, distributes financial aid depending on the progress made by the beneficiary countries and their needs, as indicated by the annual assessments and strategic documents prepared by the Commission.

Moreover, applicant countries may also receive cofunding from international financial institutions with which the Commission has signed agreements. These agreements not only allow cooperation between these institutions to be reinforced but also loans and funds deployed in the pre-accession process to be channelled more effectively. The European Investment Bank (EIB), as the EU's accredited financial institution, also plays a considerable role in this area.

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