Copenhagen criteria

The Copenhagen criteria are the rules that define whether a nation is eligible to join the European Union. The criteria require that a state have the institutions to preserve democratic governance and human rights, a functioning market economy, and that the state accept the obligations and intent of the EU. These membership criteria were laid down at the June 1993 European Council in Copenhagen, Denmark, from which they take their name.

Excerpt from the Copenhagen Presidency conclusions:

"Membership requires that the candidate country has 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. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union."

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 joining is possible.

The Copenhagen criteria are divided into three groups — geographic, political and economic.

    * 1 Geographic criteria
    * 2 Political criteria
          o 2.1 Democracy
          o 2.2 Rule of Law
          o 2.3 Human Rights
          o 2.4 Respect for and protection of minorities
    * 3 Economic criteria
    * 4 Legislative alignment

Geographic criteria

Neither the EU nor the candidate countries have the power to change geographical reality, so compliance with the first set of conditions, the geographical ones, is usually determined much earlier in the enlargement process - at the beginning, when adopting the first opinion of the application of a particular country. Later negotations do not then need to address this issue.

The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49) stated that any European country that respects the principles of the EU may apply to join. No mention is made of enlarging the EU to include non-European countries, but precedents of turning down Morocco's application and speaking about Israel's closest integration as being "just short of full membership" suggest that for non-European states it is not possible to attain EU membership. However, various definitions of Europe exist so whether a country is "European" is "subject to political assessment". There has been some debate about this in the case of Cyprus - the island is much closer to Asia than to Europe; but extensive historical, cultural, and political ties to other European countries lead most to consider it as a European country.

Political criteria
Functional democratic governance requires that all citizens of the country should be able to participate, on an equal basis, in the political decision making at every single governing level, from local municipalities up to the highest, national, level. This also requires free elections with a secret ballot, the right to establish political parties without any hindrance from the state; fair and equal access to a free press; free trade union organisations; executive powers restricted by laws and allowing free access to judges independent of the executive.

Rule of Law
The rule of law implies that government authority may only be exercised in accordance with written laws, which were adopted through an established procedure. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary rulings in individual cases.

Human Rights
Human rights are those rights which every person holds because of his quality as a human being; human rights are "inalienable" and belonging to all humans. These include the right to life, the right to be prosecuted only according to the laws that are in existence at the time of the offence, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to be free from torture.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered the most authoritative formulation of human rights, and is more stringent than the very similar European Convention on Human Rights. The requirement to fall in line with this formulation forced several nations that recently joined the EU to implement major improvements in their legislation, public services and judiciary. Many of the changes involved the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

Respect for and protection of minorities
Members of such national minorities should be able to maintain their distinctive culture and practices, including their language (as far as not contrary to the human rights of other people, nor to democratic procedures and rule of law), without suffering any discrimination.

Economic criteria
The economic criteria, broadly speaking, require that candidate countries have a functioning market economy and that their companies have the capability to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.

Legislative alignment
Finally, and technically outside the Copenhagen criteria, comes the further requirement that all prospective members must enact legislation in order to bring their laws into line with the body of European law built up over the history of the Union, known as the acquis communautaire.