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EU Membership Criteria Evaluation Dissertation



The purpose of this thesis is establishing a new membership mechanism for the European Union (EU). As the EU struggles with different kind of issues those showed up lately due to its membership mechanism, the demand for a new membership system arises. The thesis follows five steps to come up with a new solution. First step covers information of the current membership system. Second step refers particular problems closely related with membership system. In third phase the framework of the recommended system is built up considering the problems. Within the fourth step, the new system applied on mentioned problems to see how it effects current situation in theory. Finally, the self-criticism on the recommended system and the comparison between recommended and current membership mechanism is done in the fifth part.
To understand the necessity of a new membership system at least the existent structure with its historical background shall be known. As much as knowing well the source of problems, analyzing problems separately is also required to create a solution. In the same way to come up with a solution, the establishment of the system shall be based on arguments those pointed out during the examination of the current membership system. While settling the new system, required elements were inspired from different disciplines of the social science. To check the functionality of the new system, it is applied to related problems. More specific explanations about the system are held during this checking process. Even if it sounds well functioning in theory, there might be some points to criticize in the new system since the perfection of a system is hard to achieve in social topics. The last thing to decide about whether choosing the recommended system or not is comparing the system with the current one according to their advantages and disadvantages.
All in all, the thesis claims that the European Union is going to have a dynamic membership mechanism which provides more efficiency in membership activities. As a result, the EU can solve its problems and increase its structural solidity. In other words, the unification of member states may process faster than before.


The Assumption

“The European Union is NOT a religiously formed structure; unlike it is suspected and conspired as a Christianity Union by some political scientists.”

1.2 The EU and necessity of a new membership system

Europe has achieved a very stunning progress in unification so far. However the mind bending question “Does the unification make anything better for all of the EU countries?” still doesn`t have a clear answer. From 1952 Paris Treaty until 2007 the last enlargement, the European Union (EU) enlarged fifth times and each enlargement separately came with some pros and cons. It has been arguing that how come a positive and beneficial action could create drawbacks and be harmful rather than helpful. Even though the ideology behind the establishment of the European Union is basically covers mutual beneficial agreement, somehow enlargements make some members` current social and economic situation worse. Besides, there are also some debates on whether enlargements should continue or not. After considering long-term cost-benefit analysis of enlargement attempts some doubts justifiably aroused about necessity of enlargement. The answer of these kinds of questions and results of these arguments will be also provided if the dilemma of enlargement is solved. It is easy to point out the problems and backwards of enlargement observing the social and economic fluctuation in the EU countries. However, marking the first cause and fundamental reason of these problems and to find exact solutions, as much as the source of problems are different and varied and cannot be solved without major regulations, the enlargement structure should be examined per se. Thus, to see the main stream of enlargement problems, essentially focusing on the enlargement progress is necessary.
As the question aroused about the enlargement progress, the membership process that the skeleton of enlargement is so important to analyze and observe the basic reason of problems in the EU with cost-benefit perspective. It can be said that the membership process may actually the origin of the problems which can be monitored in the EU. To see how membership process affects the Union badly, a comparison of social and economic indicators between current and previous situations is truly required. In other words, analyzing from “the big bang” of the EU till current situation by looking at enlargement results gives some clues to understand how problematic the membership process is. Additionally, the current social and economic situation of the EU members and the EU`s relations with other states are also helpful indicators to recognize the problem in membership process. Furthermore, during the analysis it can be observed that in some cases the legal and written rules of the EU come short to cover the legal loophole at the current membership process.
After reaching the conclusion of analysis about the membership process, the system can be regulated and may be renewed according to the results those show us whether the system should be changed. Although if the results objectively refer the moderate performance of membership process, a new prospectively designed system will still be suggested to optimize the system and increase efficiency. Because by having a flashback to the establishment of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) it can be seen that the main scheme of the EU was created to improve and support efficiency among countries. Thus if there is a more efficient and beneficial system which helps the EU to get rid of its problems particularly, it should be preferred to current membership process due to ideological background of the EU, even though the current system works with difficulties. Besides, the recommended system will compromise with the current system by adapting most of its features.
Mostly, membership systems are thought so strictly binding with members and rules of membership are not dynamic to adopt with a new unknown situation. But the recommended membership system which will be designed and tested can bring dynamism into the EU structure. The structure of membership process is bases on the framework of dynamic systems. As the ideology and motto of the new system, it can be said the whole world changes and differs every second to form adaptation with each items in it, systems also should be so dynamic that adopt with every sort of situation. In other words, the life is dynamic by itself. Therefore, a dynamic system for the EU membership mechanism is more realistic than a static membership model. Even in social sciences such as economics a dynamic analysis of economy is more explanatory than a static analysis and it also has more correct results.
This thesis follows on five steps those will give us an understanding of change and the difference of new membership system. First of all, the current membership system and enlargement activities will be mentioned to observe the current situation. Secondly, the international, social and economical problems caused by current membership system will be mentioned particularly. The current problems and the lack of solution method against them will be shown in this part. Thirdly, the difference and requirements of new recommended membership system will be introduced. Furthermore, the application of the new membership system will be tried out with problems which would have been mentioned on the second step. Lastly, the conclusion to make an overall analysis and self-criticism of nominated membership system emphasizing advantages and disadvantages of both membership systems will be pointed out. At the beginning of the thesis, the assumption is placed in the middle of the first page without any additional script to emphasize it very strongly. Because the whole thesis is bases on the assumption that the European Union is just a union tries to increase common benefits of all countries in Europe without any discrimination. Otherwise, if it was not said so and the European Union was a religiously established union, there would be no need to improve efficiency of the membership process because the only one membership criterion that would have been looked for would be the Christianity of the applicant countries. Hence, the thesis would be meaningless, the current application of non-Christian countries as well. The assumption also helps to set the border of this thesis. During the thesis, the focus will just be on objective materials without referring any speculative comments. The dynamic system will be recommended for the EU can also be used as a conflict resolution method on the other unions` problem.
With beliefs of the EU wants to have a more efficient and beneficial system, and also the EU defends that the unification of economic system and the harmonization of social structures shall be carried forward, a dynamic system will solve most of the problems in the union without getting in any other political debates such as religion.
As an introduction for drawbacks of the current system, slowdown in economic indicators, rising of nationalist ideology and parties, rejection of the EU constitution, domestic moral problems in member states such as in Italy, Budget deficit problems in member states like Greece and Spain, lack of common foreign and security policy, and loosing beliefs of candidate states on the EU can be referred among dozens of problems.
Nowadays, the EU is not in a comparable position with its former strength but the comparison of situations after and before enlargement activities will show that how the current system affects the strength of the union negatively. Thus, it will also explain how a membership system can diminish the power of a union. As simple as in the metaphor about flywheels of a machine, if there is any flywheel that works reversely, it should be gotten out from the mechanism before it blocks the working system. Even if a member state doesn`t work simultaneously with the union, the Union may be able to ban the state or hold its membership for a while. Otherwise the whole legal structure doesn`t help the system to work properly, this illustrates that the membership mechanism needs to be restored with an efficient one.



2.1 The current membership System

The current membership system bases on three different documents which are The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49),The declaration of the June 1993 European Council in Copenhagen, i.e. Copenhagen criteria, and a document is decided after negotiations about adaptation to acquis communautaire between European Union and candidate state. Lately, all of the membership requirements and its legal structure were combined into the Treaty of Lisbon. This means that all of those three documents are included into the treaty of Lisbon with a couple of updates. Especially, the Copenhagen Criteria are the rules that decide whether a country is eligible to join the European Union and they are also known as the main detailed source for the membership prerequisites. Firstly, the idea of preparing a legal content for membership carried out with the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht (Article O). In Article 49 (formerly Article O), the geographical criteria and slightly general policy criteria were settled down. Then, with the 1993 Copenhagen Criteria, the general policy criteria of membership were described in more details considering three aspects; Political, Economic and Legislative. After all those criteria, as a homestretch, measures and regulations decided by negotiations between the European Union and candidate states fulfill the scheme of membership requirement for the EU. Most of these criteria have been confirmed over the last decade by legislation of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as by the case law of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.
The mentioned documents provide all requisites to become a member state of the EU. Thus, criteria can be sorted with sub-categories to understand what the EU demands from candidates particularly regarding to the general policy, geographic, political, economic, and legislative criteria. As a main frame the general policy criteria can be summarized as in the Article O (Maastricht Treaty):
“Any European State may apply to become a Member of the Union. It shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by an absolute majority of its component members. The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded which such admission entails shall be the subject of an agreement between the 16 Member States and the applicant state. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.” (European Commission, 1992a)
In addition to the article it can be extensively illustrated by an excerpt from the Copenhagen Presidency conclusions:
“Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. ”(Copenhagen European Council, 1993: 1)
Regarding its acquis and actions, the EU doesn`t have certain steady geographic criteria for candidates. The EU refused Morocco`s applications a couple of decades ago, in 1987 due to territorial and geographical difference. Besides, even though Turkey has small part of its territory on the European continent and Turkey is on “negotiation” phase of membership process now, the membership of Turkey is still a huge debate. On the other hand, the speculations about the membership of Israel is considerably spread because of close economic and politic relations between Israel and the EU (Europa, 2007) and recently some Prime Ministers of member states individually declared that they would be happy to see Israel as a member state of the EU soon (Rettman, 2010). Hence, in the legal documents, the geographic criteria briefly demands that the candidate country shall have territory on the European continent and economical, cultural, historical and political ties with other European states as well. On the other hand, in practice, it can be seen so questionable. There is no clear answer for this dilemma. It can be easily illustrated by the fact that, before the rejection of Morocco, the EU accepted French Guiana to join the union despite the reality that it is in South Africa. Both countries mentioned in this case have similar background within France. The only difference is unlike French Guiana, Morocco is independent right now. However, instead of both countries, only French Guiana is in the EU. As a result, it can be claimed that the geographical criteria are not necessarily applicable within the current membership mechanism.
Until 1993 the decision-making process of membership doesn`t have clear references. The clear expression of prerequisites is declared with the Copenhagen Criteria. However, when member states agreed on criteria in 1993, there was no mechanism for ensuring that any member state was in compliance with these criteria. Nevertheless some legal arrangements and sanctions have been imposed to monitor compliance with these criteria. The first victim of this action was the Austrian government of Wolfgang Schüssel in early 2000. They have been come across with sanctions of the other 14 Member States’ governments because of not compensating the membership requisites. These legal arrangements came into effect under the provisions of the Treaty of Nice on the first of February 2003. With Copenhagen Criteria three more aspects were added into membership mechanism; Political, Legislative and Economic criteria. These criteria are going to be explained particularly as follows;
As a crucial part of political criteria the EU ask for a consolidated democracy from candidate states. According to most political science scholars, the definition of consolidated democracy contains these three steps; Competitive elections, Liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom of association, and Consolidation of democracy in society. Consolidated democratic governance requires that all citizens of the country shall be able to participate equally in the political decision making process at every single governing level. Consolidated democracy also means free and fair elections with a secret ballot, freedom of press, the right to establish political parties without any obstacle from the state rulers, freedom of association, freedom of expression, rule of laws and freedom of standing trial through unbiased free judges. The second political criteria for candidate states is the rule of law which expresses government authority may only be exercised in accordance with documented and written laws. They should be adopted through an established procedure. In case of arbitrary rulings towards individuals, the principle is supposed to be a safeguard. The third political criterion to join the European Union is respecting the Human rights in every kind of situation. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered the most authoritative formulation of human rights and the EU is also admitted its legitimacy. According to the declaration human rights which every person holds because of their quality as a human being should be protected against all threats. Besides, those rights are inalienable and belonging to all humans. Briefly, if a right is inalienable, that means it cannot be limited, granted, bestowed, bartered away, or sold away. These include the right to life, the right to be prosecuted only according to the rule of laws, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to be free from torture.(Wikipedia, 2010a) The last but not the least political criteria for EU membership are respect for minorities and protecting their rights. At the beginning there was no clarity in definition of minorities in member states. But in 1995 with the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (COE) the EU declared minorities in member states and defined their rights with consensus. However, minorities in member states are defined by a consensus commission which was formed by member states therefore not all minorities could be regarded and defined within the concept. The consensus commission (the Venice Commission) reached the conclusion of the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities which protects minorities by defining them as “a group which is smaller in number than the rest of the population of a State, whose members, who are nationals of that State, have ethnical, religious or linguistic features different from those of the rest of the population, and are guided by the will to safeguard their culture, traditions, religion or language” (Venice Commision, 2004: 1). According to the definition of national minorities, unlike others, recent minorities such as immigrant populations have not been listed by signatory countries in the convention. This can be seen by checking the list of national minorities published by Council of Europe (Council of Europe, 2007).
Another issue of the EU membership mechanism which can also be considered as a membership requirement is the economic criteria. As it is obviously known that the free market economy is the main characteristic of the EU. Speaking generally about free market economy, candidate countries shall have a functioning free market economy and the system should not be interfered by government as little as it is possible. Besides, their producers shall have the capability to deal with competitive pressure of free market and market forces within the Union. Nowadays, all economic requirements for membership are carried out with The European Exchange Rate Mechanism to take candidates into the Eurozone. While debating economic criteria for EU membership, one of the most popular misbelieves is the acceptance of economic criteria which were defined by the Maastricht Treaty as prerequisites for membership. Because the way it is interpreted in the Maastricht Treaty concerns about member states. They mention about neither the necessity of abiding by the treaty for candidates nor obligations on candidate states. However, in practice, fulfilling those criteria is also expected from candidate states. The economic criteria defined by the Maastricht Treaty became more concrete with the Protocol on the excessive deficit procedure and the Protocol on the Convergence Criteria Referred to in Article 109j annexed to this Treaty. In the Protocols the desired ratios and rate were announced to member states, regarding to the practical aspect of the Treaty, it is binding for candidate states as well. The economic requisites for membership are sorted with articles in the protocol as follows;
“The reference values referred to in Article 104c(2) of this Treaty are: 3% for the ratio of the planned or actual government deficit to gross domestic product at market prices; 60% for the ratio of government debt to gross domestic product at market prices.”(European Commission, 1992c)
“The criterion on price stability referred to in the first indent of Article 109j (l) of this Treaty shall mean that a Member State has a price performance that is sustainable and an average rate of inflation, observed over a period of one year before the examination, that does not exceed by more than 1½ percentage points that of, at most, the three best performing Member States in terms of price stability. Inflation shall be measured by 30 means of the consumer price index on a comparable basis, taking into account differences in national definitions.”(European Commission, 1992b)
Lastly, all candidates should regulate and enact their constitutions and judicial systems to consolidate them according to European law which built up over the history of the Union and also known as the acquis communautaire. After all criteria, the negotiations phase is the last step towards membership. During the negotiations with each candidate country, progress towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria is regularly monitored. On the basis of this, decisions are made as to whether and when a particular country should join, or what actions need to be taken before its access become possible. However, even though a country successfully fulfilled the whole bunch of criteria, it is declared that the new member cannot take its place in the Union until it is considered that the EU per se shall have enough “absorption capacity” for this enlargement. This situation were announced with the excepts in Presidency Conclusions (Copenhagen European Council, 1993) as follows;
“The Union’s capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration in the general interest of both the Union and the candidate countries.”(Copenhagen European Council, 1993: 1)
To see the officially declared requirements and explanations it can be better to quote some excerpts from official web-sites of the European Union, thus the criteria can be compared and understood with and without interpretation;

Accession criteria

In 1993, at the Copenhagen European Council, the Union took a decisive step towards the fifth enlargement, agreeing that “the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union.” Thus, enlargement was no longer a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
Concerning the timing, the European Council states: “Accession will take place as soon as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership by satisfying the economic and political conditions required.” At the same time, it defined the membership criteria, which are often referred to as the ‘Copenhagen criteria’.

Copenhagen European Council

Membership criteria require that the candidate country must have achieved

  • stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
  • the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic & monetary union.

Madrid European Council

Membership criteria also require that the candidate country must have created the conditions for its integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures, as underlined by the Madrid European Council in December 1995. While it is important that European Community legislation is transposed into national legislation, it is even more important that the legislation is implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures. This is a prerequisite of the mutual trust required by EU membership.” (European Commision, 2010)
As opposed to the membership criteria and the EU`s Acquis Communautaire, general criticisms are the lack of certainty and elaboration in membership criteria, not mentioning in Acquis Communautaire about cancelling membership in the case of refusing to carry out sanctions and penalties opted by the EU and the slightly existence of flexibility towards extreme case such as a desire of a member state to quit from the Union. In other words, there are sometimes conflicting interpretations in current member states about membership criteria and cancelling membership of an idle member state. On the other hand, the right of quitting form the union is recently added to the EU acquis with the Treaty of Lisbon.
“Before the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009 no provision in the treaties or law of the European Union outlined the ability of a state to voluntary withdraw from EU. The European Constitution did propose such a provision and, after the failure to ratify the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, that provision was then included in the Lisbon Treaty.
The treaty introduces an exit clause for members who wish to withdraw from the Union. This formalizes the procedure by stating that a member state may notify the European Council that it wishes to withdraw, upon which withdrawal negotiations begin; if no other agreement is reached the treaty ceases to apply to the withdrawing state two years after such notification.”(Wikipedia, 2010b)
“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”(European Comission, 2007: Article 50)

2.2 Enlargement Activities

The European Union enlarged fifth times so far and enlargements with greater amount of candidates mostly occurred through eastern European countries after the definition of the criteria mentioned above. This enlargement process started in 1952 when the European Union was still called as the European Coal and Steel Community. Since then, the EU has achieved to have twenty-seven member states with the most recent expansion to Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.
Table 1. The EU`s enlargements and its approved members





23 July 1952 France N/A Founding Members
23 July 1952 (West) Germany N/A
23 July 1952 Belgium N/A
23 July 1952 Italy N/A
23 July 1952 Netherlands N/A
23 July 1952 Luxembourg N/A
1 January 1973 United Kingdom 10 August 1961 First Enlargement
10 May 1967
1 January 1973 Denmark 10 August 1961
11 May 1967
1 January 1973 Ireland 10 August 1961
11 May 1967
1 January 1981 Greece 12 June 1975 Second Enlargement
1 January 1986 Spain 28 June 1977 Third Enlargement
1 January 1986 Portugal 28 March 1977
1 January 1995 Austria 17 July 1989 Fourth Enlargement
1 January 1995 Sweden 1 July 1991
1 January 1995 Finland 18 March 1992
1 May 2004 Cyprus 3 July 1990 Fifth Enlargement
1 May 2004 Malta 3 July 1990
1 May 2004 Hungary 31 March 1994
1 May 2004 Poland 5 April 1994
1 May 2004 Slovakia 27 June 1995
1 May 2004 Latvia 13 September 1995
1 May 2004 Estonia 24 November 1995
1 May 2004 Lithuania 8 December 1995
1 May 2004 Czech Republic 17 January 1996
1 May 2004 Slovenia 10 June 1996
1 January 2007 Romania 22 June 1995
1 January 2007 Bulgaria 14 December 1995

Within the table above the enlargements and candidate countries are sorted according to historical antecedence. On the other side, there are also countries which could not join the EU because of particular reasons. The United Kingdom is vetoed by the French Government in 1961 and Denmark and Ireland

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