The enlargement process has been long and hard. However, major efforts have been made for its realisation by the European Commission, the Council and the European Council, as well as by the acceding and candidate countries.
The main criteria that must be met by the candidate countries were defined at the Copenhagen European Council in Juin 1993. Two years later, at the Madrid European Council, it was decided that the applicant countries should harmonise their systems of administration with those of the EU.
At the Luxembourg European Council (December 1997), the decision was taken for the commencement of the enlargement process. In implementation of the decision of the European Council on 31 March the following year, six countries (Slovenia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland) began accession negotiations.
Following the decisions of the Helsinki European Council (December 1999) a second group of countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia – also began accession negotiations, on 15 February 2000.
The final stage of the accession process was marked by a Commission report (October 2002), which evaluated the progress made by the candidate countries and ascertained the completion of the negotiation process for ten candidate countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland. The Copenhagen European Council (December 2002) ratified the Commission’s proposal and the process will be concluded with the following steps: the drafting of the Accession Treaty, its forwarding to the Commission for its opinion as well as the concurring opinion of the European Parliament. The Accession Treaty will be signed by the 15 Member States and the ten acceding countries in Athens on 16 April 2003.
The failure of an acceding country to ratify the Accession Treaty entails the annulment of its accession to the European Union. However, the non-ratification of the Treaty by a Member State would have a general impact on the enlargement process. The acceding countries which ratify the Accession Treaty will become full members of the Union on 1 May, 2004. Bulgaria and Romania have not yet concluded their accession negotiations and the two countries are now expected to join the EU in 2007. Although it has made significant progress, Turkey does not yet meet the 1993 Copenhagen criteria and the decision concerning the commencement of its accession negotiations will be taken in December 2004.