Future enlargement of the European Union

There are five recognised candidates for future membership of the European Union: Turkey (applied on 14 April 1987), North Macedonia (applied on 22 March 2004 as "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"), Montenegro (applied in 2008), Albania (applied in 2009), and Serbia (applied in 2009). All except Albania and North Macedonia have started accession negotiations.[1][2] Kosovo, whose independence is not recognised by five EU member states,[3] and Bosnia and Herzegovina are recognised as potential candidates for membership by the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina has formally submitted an application for membership, while Kosovo has a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, which generally precedes the lodging of membership application. In July 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the EU had no plans to expand before 2019,[4] while Serbia and Montenegro, the most advanced candidates, are both expected to join no earlier than 2025.[5] While the others are progressing, Turkish talks are at an effective standstill.[6]

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The accession criteria are included in the Copenhagen criteria, agreed in 1993, and the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49). Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty (as amended) says that any "European state" that respects the "principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law", may apply to join the EU. Whether a country is European or not is subject to political assessment by the EU institutions.[7]

Past enlargement since the foundation of the European Union (EU) as the European Economic Community by the Inner Six states in 1958[8] has brought total membership of the EU to twenty-eight.

The three major western European countries that are not EU members, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, have all submitted membership applications in the past, but subsequently froze them. They do however, along with Liechtenstein, participate in the EU Single Market as well as the Schengen Area, which makes them closely aligned with the EU. According to an Eastern Partnership strategy, the EU is unlikely to invite any more of its post-Soviet neighbours to join the bloc before 2020.[9] However, in 2014 the EU signed Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine,[10] and the European Parliament passed a resolution recognising the "European perspective" of all three countries.[11]

Current agenda

The present enlargement agenda of the European Union regards Turkey and the Western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. These states must negotiate the terms of their EU accession with the current member states, and align their domestic legislation with EU law before joining.

Turkey has a long-standing application with the EU, but their accession negotiations have stalled since 2016.[12] This is due to the political issues surrounding the accession of the country.[13] As for the Western Balkan states, the EU had pledged to include them after their civil wars: in fact, two states have entered (Slovenia in 2004 and Croatia in 2013), four are candidates, and the remaining two have pre-accession agreements.[14]

There are other states in Europe that either seek membership, or could potentially apply if their present foreign policy changes, or the EU gives a signal that they might now be included on the enlargement agenda. However, these are not formally part of the current agenda, which is already delayed due to bilateral disputes in the Balkans and difficulty in fully implementing the acquis communautaire (the accepted body of EU law).

In 2005, the European Commission suggested in a strategy paper that the present enlargement agenda could potentially block the possibility of a future accession of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.[15] Olli Rehn has said on occasion that the EU should "avoid overstretching our capacity, and instead consolidate our enlargement agenda," adding, "this is already a challenging agenda for our accession process."[16]

It was previously the norm for enlargements to see multiple entrants join the Union at once. The only previous enlargements of a single state were the 1981 admission of Greece and the 2013 admission of Croatia.

However, the EU members have warned that, following the significant impact of the fifth enlargement in 2004, a more individual approach will be adopted in the future, although the entry of pairs or small groups of countries will most probably coincide.[17]

Western Balkans

The 2003 European Council summit in Thessaloniki set integration of the Western Balkans as a priority of EU expansion. This commitment was made in order to stabilise the region in the wake of the Yugoslav Wars, a series of civil wars through the 1990s that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav country to obtain independence, joined the EU in 2004, followed by Croatia in 2013.

Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro are all candidate states, with Montenegro and Serbia in negotiations.[18] Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied to join but is not yet recognised as a candidate while Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is not recognised by all EU states, or Serbia.

Serbia and Montenegro could join the European Union in 2025.[19] North Macedonia and Albania are expected to start talks by the end of 2019 and could join after 2025.[20]


Turkey's candidacy to join the EU has been a matter of major significance and considerable controversy since it was granted in 1999. Turkey has had historically close ties with the EU, having an association agreement since 1964,[21] being in a customs union with the EU since 1995 and initially applying to join in 1987. Only after a summit in Brussels on 17 December 2004 (following the major 2004 enlargement), the European Council announced that membership negotiations with Turkey were officially opened on 3 October 2005.

Turkey is the thirteenth largest economy in the world, it has the second largest military force of NATO[22][23] and is a key regional power.[24][25] In 2006, Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister, stated that "[The accession of Turkey] would give the EU a decisive role for stability in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, which is clearly in the strategic interest of Europe."[26]

However others, such as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, maintain an opposition to Turkey's membership. Opponents argue that Turkey does not respect the key principles that are expected in a liberal democracy, such as the freedom of expression.[27] Turkey's large population would also alter the balance of power in the representative European institutions. Upon joining the EU, Turkey's 70 million inhabitants would bestow it the second largest number of MEPs in the European Parliament.[23] Demographic projections indicate that Turkey would surpass Germany in the number of seats by 2020.[23] Turkey also does not recognise one EU state, Cyprus, over the Cyprus dispute and the Cypriot government blocks some chapters of Turkey's talks.

Turkey's relations with the EU have seriously deteriorated in the aftermath of the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt and subsequent purges.[28][29] On 24 November 2016 the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling for the "temporary freeze of the ongoing accession negotiations with Turkey" over human rights and rule of law concerns.[30][31][32] On 13 December, the European Council (comprising the heads of state or government of the member states) resolved that it would open no new areas in Turkey's membership talks in the "prevailing circumstances",[33] as Turkey's path toward autocratic rule made progress on EU accession impossible.[34] As of 2017, and especially following Erdoğan's victory in the constitutional referendum, Turkish accession talks are effectively at a standstill.[6][35][36]

Summary table

State Status Association
[N 1][37]
Albania Candidate 2009-04-01 (SAA) 2009-04-28 2014-06-24[1]

Corruption, organised crime, politicisation of the judiciary.[38]

Bosnia and
Applicant 2015-06-01 (SAA) 2016-02-15[39]

Constitution needs significant reform, little agreement about the future of the state.[38]

(status disputed)
2016-04-01 (SAA)[40]

Still under an EU rule-of-law assistance mission, deep political and corruption problems, status is disputed.[38]

Montenegro Candidate
2010-05-01 (SAA) 2008-12-15 2010-12-17 2012-06-29 2013-06-27 3/32 of 33

Work on bringing financial and budgetary provisions in line with the acquis is still at an early stage.[41]

North Macedonia Candidate 2004-04-01 (SAA) 2004-03-22 2005-12-17

Disputes with Bulgaria, concerns about democracy and rule of law.[38]

Serbia Candidate
2013-09-01 (SAA) 2009-12-22 2012-03-01 2014-01-21[42] 2015-03-24 2/18 of 34

Ongoing dispute over Kosovo, little progress in fighting corruption.[38]

Turkey Candidate
1987-04-14 1999-12-12 2005-10-03 2006-10-13 1/16 of 33 The Cyprus dispute, among other issues. Planned Turkish policies may violate the Copenhagen criteria of eligibility for membership. Human rights abuses have become a serious problem.[43] 14 chapters have had negotiations frozen since the late 2000s.[44] A 2018 EU statement indicates that there will be no further chapters opened in the foreseeable future.[45]
  1. Excluding Chapters 34 (Institutions) and 35 (Other Issues) since these are not legislation chapters.


Recognised candidate countries[46] Potential candidate countries[46] Reference member states

Turkey[47] North Macedonia[48] Montenegro[49] Serbia[50] Albania[51] Bosnia
Kosovo*[53][Note 1] Finland Czech
Bulgaria Croatia
EU Association Agreement[Note 2] negotiations start 1959AA
5 Apr 2000 10 Oct 2005[Note 3] 10 Oct 2005[Note 4] 31 Jan 2003 25 Nov 2005 28 Oct 2013[55] 1990 1990 1990 24 Nov 2000
EU Association Agreement signature 12 Sep 1963AA
9 Apr 2001 15 Oct 2007 29 Apr 2008 12 Jun 2006 16 Jun 2008 27 Oct 2015[56] 2 May 1992 4 Oct 1993 8 Mar 1993 29 Oct 2001
EU Association Agreement entry into force 1 Dec 1964AA
31 Dec 1995CU[57]
1 Apr 2004 1 May 2010 1 Sep 2013 1 Apr 2009 1 Jun 2015[58] 1 Apr 2016[59] 1 Jan 1994 1 Feb 1995 1 Feb 1995 1 Feb 2005
Membership application submitted 14 Apr 1987 22 Mar 2004 15 Dec 2008 22 Dec 2009 28 Apr 2009 15 Feb 2016[60] (tbd) 18 Mar 1992 17 Jan 1996 14 Dec 1995 21 Feb 2003
Council asks Commission for opinion 27 Apr 1987 17 May 2004 23 Apr 2009 25 Oct 2010[61] 16 Nov 2009 20 Sep 2016[62] (tbd) 6 Apr 1992 29 Jun 1996 29 Jan 1996 14 Apr 2003
Commission presents legislative questionnaire to applicant 1 Oct 2004 22 Jul 2009 24 Nov 2010 16 Dec 2009 9 Dec 2016[63] (tbd) Mar 1996 Apr 1996 10 Jul 2003
Applicant responds to questionnaire 10 May 2005 12 Apr 2010 22 Apr 2011 11 Jun 2010 28 Feb 2018 (tbd) Jun 1997 25 Apr 1997 9 Oct 2003
Commission prepares its opinion (and subsequent reports) 1989, 1997-2004 2005-09 9 Nov 2010 12 Oct 2011 2010-2013 2019- (tbd) 4 Nov 1992 15 Jul 1997 1997-99 20 Apr 2004
Commission recommends granting of candidate status 13 Oct 1999 9 Nov 2005 9 Nov 2010 12 Oct 2011 16 Oct 2013[64] (tbd) (tbd) 4 Nov 1992 15 Jul 1997 15 Jul 1997 20 Apr 2004
Council grants candidate status to Applicant 12 Dec 1999 17 Dec 2005 17 Dec 2010[65] 1 Mar 2012 27 Jun 2014[66][67] (tbd) (tbd) 21 Dec 1992 12 Dec 1997 12 Dec 1997 18 Jun 2004
Commission recommends starting of negotiations 6 Oct 2004 14 Oct 2009 12 Oct 2011 22 Apr 2013[68] 9 Nov 2016[69] (tbd) (tbd) 4 Nov 1992 15 Jul 1997 13 Oct 1999 6 Oct 2004
Council sets negotiations start date 17 Dec 2004 18 Jun 2019[70] 26 Jun 2012[71] 17 Dec 2013[72] 26 Jun 2018[70] (tbd) (tbd) 21 Dec 1992 12 Dec 1997 10 Dec 1999 2004, 2005
Membership negotiations start 3 Oct 2005 (tbd) 29 Jun 2012 21 Jan 2014[73] (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) 1 Feb 1993 31 Mar 1998 15 Feb 2000 3 Oct 2005
Membership negotiations end (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) 1994 13 Dec 2002 17 Dec 2004 30 Jun 2011
Accession Treaty signature (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) 24 Jun 1994 16 Apr 2003 25 Apr 2005 9 Dec 2011
EU joining date (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) (tbd) 1 Jan 1995 1 May 2004 1 Jan 2007 1 Jul 2013
Acquis chapter Turkey North Macedonia Montenegro Serbia Albania Bosnia
Kosovo* Finland Czech
Bulgaria Croatia
1. Free Movement of Goods f s o fs s x x x x
2. Freedom of Movement for Workers f s o fs s x x x x
3. Right of Establishment & Freedom to provide Services f s o fs s x x x x
4. Free Movement of Capital o s o fs s x x x x
5. Public Procurement fs s o o s x x x x
6. Company Law o o o s x x x x
7. Intellectual Property Law o s o o s x x x x
8. Competition Policy fs fs fs x x x x
9. Financial Services f o o s x x x x
10. Information Society & Media o o fs x x x x
11. Agriculture & Rural Development f o fs s x x x x
12. Food safety, Veterinary & Phytosanitary Policy o s o fs s x x x x
13. Fisheries f o o s x x x x
14. Transport Policy f o fs s x x x x
15. Energy f o fs s x x x x
16. Taxation o o fs s x x x x
17. Economic & Monetary Policy o s o o s x x x x
18. Statistics o s o o s x x x x
19. Social Policy & Employment fs[Note 5] o fs s x x x x
20. Enterprise & Industrial Policy o s o o s x x x x
21. Trans-European Networks o o fs s x x x x
22. Regional Policy & Coordination of Structural Instruments o s o fs s x x x x
23. Judiciary & Fundamental Rights f s o o s x x x x
24. Justice, Freedom & Security f s o o s x x x x
25. Science & Research x s x x s x x x x
26. Education & Culture f s x x s x x x x
27. Environment o o fs s x x x x
28. Consumer & Health Protection o o fs s x x x x
29. Customs Union f o o x x x x
30. External Relations f x o x x x x
31. Foreign, Security & Defence Policy f o fs x x x x
32. Financial Control o s o o s x x x x
33. Financial & Budgetary Provisions o o o s x x x x
34. Institutions f x x x x
35. Other Issues o x x x x
Situation of policy area at the start of membership negotiations (Turkey, reference states), at candidate status recommendation (North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia) or membership application opinion (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina); according to the 1992 Opinion, 1997 Opinions, 1999 Reports, 2005 Reports, 2010 Opinion, 2010 Reports, 2011 Reports and the 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina Analytical Report.

s – screening of the chapter
fs – finished screening
f – frozen chapter
o – open chapter
x – closed chapter

  generally already applies the acquis
  no major difficulties expected
  further efforts needed
  non-acquis chapter - nothing to adopt
  considerable efforts needed
  very hard to adopt
  situation totally incompatible with EU acquis


  1. Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo is currently recognized as an independent state by 98 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 112 UN member states recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 14 later withdrew their recognition. The European Union remains divided on its policy towards Kosovo, with five EU member states not recognizing its independence.
  2. EU Association Agreement type: Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) for the Western Balkans states participating in the Stabilisation and Association process of the EU (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo through the STM); Association Agreement and Customs Union for Turkey; European Economic Area (EEA) for Iceland and Finland (reference state of the Fourth Enlargement); Europe Agreement for the reference states of the Fifth Enlargement.
  3. Montenegro started negotiations in November 2005 while a part of Serbia and Montenegro. Separate technical negotiations were conducted regarding issues of sub-state organizational competency. A mandate for direct negotiations with Montenegro was established in July 2006. Direct negotiations were initiated on 26 September 2006 and concluded on 1 December 2006.[54]
  4. Serbia started negotiations in November 2005 while part of Serbia and Montenegro, with a modified mandate from July 2006.
  5. Including anti-discrimination and equal opportunities for men and women.

States not on the agenda

The Maastricht Treaty (Article 49) states that any European country (as defined by a European Council assessment) that is committed to democracy may apply for membership in the European Union.[74] In addition to European states, other countries have also been speculated or proposed as future members of the EU.

States in western Europe who have chosen, for various reasons, not to become full members of the EU have integrated with it to different extents according to their circumstances. Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein participate directly in the single market via the European Economic Area, Switzerland does so via bilateral treaties and the other European microstates (Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City) have specific agreements with the EU and neighbouring countries, including their use of the euro as their currency. Most of these countries are also part of the Schengen Area. While this integration is designed as a substitute for full membership, there are ongoing debates in a number of these countries as to whether they should join as full members. Three (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) have all previously had live applications to join the EU which have been withdrawn or otherwise frozen. Such applications could be resubmitted in the event of a change in the political landscape.

Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine ratified an Association Agreement with the EU and the European Parliament passed a resolution in 2014 stating that "in accordance with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as any other European country, have a European perspective and can apply for EU membership in compliance with the principles of democracy, respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, minority rights and ensuring the rule of rights."[75] [11][75] They also entered the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU, that creates "framework for modernising [...] trade relations and for economic development by the opening of markets via the progressive removal of customs tariffs and quotas, and by an extensive harmonisation of laws, norms and regulations in various trade-related sectors, creating the conditions for aligning key sectors" of their economies with EU standards.[76]

Main article: Armenia–European Union relations
Relationship: Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement[77]
Main obstacles: Dispute with Azerbaijan regarding Nagorno-Karabakh.
Proponents: Bright Armenia, We Alliance (Free Democrats and Hanrapetutyun), Heritage[78], Country of Law[79] People's Party of Armenia[80], Union for National Self-Determination[81]
Opponents: Nikol Pashinyan,[82] Robert Kocharyan,[83] Prosperous Armenia[84]
Public opinion: 27.2% in favour (2017 poll with several options)[85]
Main article: Georgia–European Union relations
Relationship: Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area,[86] pursuing membership.[38]
Main Obstacles: Dispute regarding South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Russia.[38]
Proponents: United National Movement,[87] Georgian Dream, European Georgia, the European Parliament[75]
Opponents: Russian government,[88] Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, Georgian March
Public Opinion: 83% in favour, 9% against (2019 poll).[89]
Main article: Iceland–European Union relations
Relationship: Member of the European Economic Area and Schengen Area, frozen membership application
Main Obstacles: Common Fisheries Policy[90] and others
Proponents: Social Democratic Alliance
Opponents: Independence Party, Left-Green Movement, Progressive Party
Public Opinion: 25.9% in favour, 54% against (2017 poll).[91]
Main article: Moldova–European Union relations
Relationship: Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, pursuing membership[92] Many Moldovans have, or can easily obtain, Romanian (and hence EU) citizenship.[93][94]
Main Obstacles: Transnistrian dispute, Russian political influence.
Proponents: Iurie Leanca,[95] Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, European People's Party of Moldova, Liberal Party (Moldova), Democratic Party of Moldova, European Parliament[75]
Opponents: Igor Dodon,[96][97] Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, Russia Government[98]
Public Opinion: 40% in favour (2015 poll).[98]
Main article: Norway–European Union relations
Relationship: Member of the European Economic Area and Schengen Area, withdrawn membership application
Main Obstacles: Common Fisheries Policy and others
Proponents: Conservative Party (Norway), Labour Party (Norway)
Opponents: Progress Party (Norway), Centre Party (Norway)
Public Opinion: 16% in favour, 66% against (2016 poll).[99]
 San Marino
Main article: San Marino–European Union relations (Microstates and the European Union)
Relationship: Bilateral treaties, open border, customs union and euro adoption
Main Obstacles: Small size.[100]
Proponents: United Left,[101] Union for the Republic,[102] Civic 10,[103][104] Party of Socialists and Democrats,[105] Socialist Party[106] and For San Marino[107][108]
Opponents: Sammarinese Christian Democratic Party,[109] Sammarinese Social Right Movement
Public Opinion: A referendum in 2013 on applying for EU membership resulted in 50.3% approving, but it failed due to insufficient turnout.[110]
Main article: Switzerland–European Union relations
Relationship: Bilateral treaties allowing participation in the European Single Market, member of the Schengen Area, withdrawn membership application
Main Obstacles: Swiss public opinion and direct democracy.
Proponents: Green Party, Social Democratic Party[111]
Opponents: Swiss People's Party, FDP.The Liberals, Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland[112][113]
Public Opinion: A Swiss referendum on restarting EU membership negotiations in 2001 was defeated by 76.8%.[114]
Main article: European Union–Ukraine relations
Relationship: Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, pursuing membership
Main Obstacles: Low level of economic development,[115] 2016 Dutch referendum, Russian factor in Ukraine crisis[38]
Proponents: Viktor Yushchenko,[116] Petro Poroshenko,[117][10] Volodymyr Zelenskyi,[118] European Solidarity, People's Front (Ukraine), Servant of the People, European Parliament[75]
Opponents: Opposition Platform — For Life, Opposition Bloc, Right Sector.
Public Opinion: 68.1% in favour, 17.1% against (2019 poll).[119]

Internal enlargement

Internal enlargement is the process of new member states arising from the break-up of or secession from an existing member state.[120][121][122] There have been and are a number of active separatist movements within member states (for example in Catalonia and Flanders) but there are no clear agreements, treaties or precedents covering the scenario of an existing EU member state breaking into two or more states, both of which wish to remain EU member states. The question is whether one state is a successor and one a new applicant or, alternatively, both are new states which must be admitted to the EU.[123][124]

In some cases, a region desires to leave its state and the EU, namely those regions wishing to join Switzerland. But most, namely the two movements who have had referendums within the 2010s, Scotland and Catalonia, see their future as independent states within the EU. This results in great interest on whether, once independent, they would retain EU membership or conversely whether they would have to re-apply. In the later case, since new members must be approved unanimously, any other state which has an interest in blocking their membership to deter similar independence movements could do so.[125][126] Additionally, it is unclear whether the successor state would retain any opt-outs that the parent state was entitled to.

Opinions on membership
  • European Commission
    • Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission: “If there were to be a ‘yes’ vote in favour of Catalan independence, then we will respect that opinion. But Catalonia will not be able to be an EU member state on the day after such a vote.”[127] This was repeated in October in an official press release: "We [...] reiterate the legal position held by this Commission as well as by its predecessors. If a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish Constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union."[128]
    • Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (2004-2014), stated in 2012 in the context of the 2014 referendum for independence in Scotland, that any new independent country would have to apply for membership and negotiate its terms, but that the rest of the original country would not have to re-negotiate its position and would continue its membership.[129][130] In 2014 he said that it would have been 'very difficult' for an independent Scotland to join the EU, 'if not impossible', because of the difficulty of getting the approval of all member states, particularly Spain, which fears a possible secession of Catalonia and has blocked Kosovo's accession to the EU.[131]
    • Joaquin Almunia (Spanish, being at the time an EU Commissioner) in 2013 claimed that Catalonia would have to apply for EU membership in the event of secession from Spain.[132]
  • Government of Spain
    • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said in November 2013 that an independent Scotland's entry to the EU would require the consent of all existing members and that an independent Scotland or other regions gaining independence, taken as a reference to Catalonia, would end up outside of the EU.[133][134]
    • Spanish Foreign Minister José Garcia-Margallo, having said in February 2012 that Spain would not veto Scottish accession to the EU, provided Scottish independence had UK agreement (thus making it different from Catalan independence),[135]
  • Government of the United Kingdom
    • The UK Government's legal advice on the issue was that 'Since the [remainder of the UK] would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue',[136] while speculating that 'On the face of it, Scotland would be required to accede to the EU as a new state, which would require negotiations on the terms of its membership ...', but that 'Scotland's position within the EU is likely to be shaped more by any agreements between the parties than by pre-existing principles of EU law.'[137] Without any formal process for handling the breakup of any member state, the European Commission offered, if requested by a member state, to provide an official view on the EU's position on Scottish EU membership in the event of its independence from the UK. The Scottish Government requested that UK Prime Minister David Cameron place this request, but such a request was not made.[138]
    • Government of Scotland
      • Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland, said that the Scottish Cabinet did not agree an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership.[129]
    • Referendum campaigns
      • Yes Scotland: The "Yes" campaign, led by Blair Jenkins, argued that Scotland would continue as a member state following a Yes vote as Scotland would remain compliant with all EU Principles as outlined in TEU Article 2 and there are no provisions to exclude a state in the existing EU agreements.[139] During the period between a Yes vote and formal independence, the Scottish Government could engage in negotiations, from within the EU, on the terms of their continuing membership in the EU. Several EU heads of state expressed their opinion that this position was reasonable, as did James Crawford, co-author of the UK government's legal advice on the issue.[140] In an interview on BBC Radio, asked if the timescale of 18 months for EU and other treaty organisation was possible, Crawford replied that he felt the timescale was reasonable.[141] However, there was no official comment on this view from the EU Commission. The Scottish Government and the Yes Campaign both declared that continuation of membership in the EU is their preference.
      • Better Together: The "No" campaign, led by Alistair Darling, argued that any vote for independence would have automatically placed Scotland out of the EU as a new state, and Scotland would have had to renegotiate entry.[142]


The Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 was the first occasion the EU was faced with the potential breakup of a member state, and one where a newly independent state wished to retain its EU membership. While the UK's intended withdrawal from the EU would also take Scotland out of the EU, the debates in the referendum campaign may inform other future scenarios.


On 1 October 2017, the Catalan government held a referendum on independence, which had been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain, with potential polling stations being cordoned off by riot police. The subsequent events constituted a political crisis for Catalonia. The EU's position is to keep distance from the crisis while supporting Spain's territorial integrity and constitution.[143][144] While the debate around Scotland's referendum may inform the Catalan crisis, Catalonia is in a distinct situation from Scotland whereby the central government does not recognise the legitimacy of any independence declaration from Catalonia. If Spain does not recognise the independence of a Catalan state, both Catalonia cannot separately join the EU and it is still recognised as part of Spain's EU membership.


There is an active movement towards Flemish independence, or union with the Netherlands, with the future status of Wallonia and Brussels (the de facto capital of the EU) unclear as viable political states, perhaps producing a unique situation from Scotland and Catalonia. There are various proposals for what should happen to the city, ranging from staying part of the Belgian rump state, to joining the hypothetical Flemish state, to becoming a separate political entity.[145][146]

Member state expansion


Officially, the island nation Cyprus is part of the European Union, under the de jure sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and thus of the European Union, and were entitled to vote in the 2004 European Parliament election (though only a few hundred registered). The EU's acquis communautaire is suspended indefinitely in the northern third of the island, which has remained outside the control of the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish invasion of 1974. The Greek Cypriot community rejected the Annan Plan for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute in a referendum on 24 April 2004. Had the referendum been in favour of the settlement proposal, the island (excluding the British Sovereign Base Areas) would have joined the European Union as the United Cyprus Republic. The European Union's relations with the Turkish Cypriot Community are handled by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Enlargement.[147]


The European Council has recognized that if the UK withdraws from the EU as expected, then were Northern Ireland to be incorporated into the Republic of Ireland to form a united Ireland it would automatically rejoin the EU under Ireland's membership. This is consistent with the incorporation of East Germany into the Federal Republic of Germany as a single European Communities member state.[148][149]


A similar scenario has been envisioned with the unification of Romania and Moldova, which would incorporate the current territory of Moldova into Romania and thus into the EU.[150]

Special territories of member states

There are multiple Special member state territories, some of them are not fully covered by the EU treaties and apply EU law only partially, if at all. It is possible for a dependency to change its status regarding the EU or some particular treaty or law provision. The territory may change its status from participation to leaving or from being outside to joining.

British dependencies

British Overseas Territories

The only country with the status of British Overseas Territory that is part of the EU is Gibraltar, which joined the EEC together with the United Kingdom in 1973. The other overseas territories are defined as Overseas Countries and Territories of the EU. All of them are associated with the EU (meaning they apply some parts of EU law) and their nationals are in principle EU citizens.[151]

Crown Dependencies

Special terms were negotiated for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man on the UK's accession to the European Economic Community. These are contained in Protocol 3 to the Treaty of Accession 1973. The effect of the protocol is that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are within the Common Customs Area and the Common External Tariff (i.e. they enjoy access to European Union countries of physical exports without tariff barriers). Other Community rules do not apply to the Islands.

Sovereign Base Areas

The UK Sovereign Base Areas, Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus did not join the European Union when the United Kingdom joined. Cyprus' Accession Treaty specifically stated that this would not change with the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. However, currently, some provisions of the EU Law are applicable there—mainly border management, food safety and free movement of people and goods.

Danish self-governing communities

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands, a self-governing nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, are not part of the EU, as explicitly asserted by both Rome treaties.[152] The relations with the EU are governed by a Fisheries Agreement (1977) and a Free Trade Agreement (1991, revised 1998). The main reason for remaining outside the EU is disagreements about the Common Fisheries Policy,[153] which disfavours countries with large fish resources. Also, every member has to pay for the Common Agricultural Policy, which favours countries having much agriculture which the Faroe Islands does not. When Iceland was in membership negotiations around 2010, there was a hope of better conditions for fish-rich countries, but this came to nothing. The Common Fisheries Policy was introduced in 1970 for the very reason of getting access for the first EC members into waters of candidate countries, UK, Ireland and Denmark with the Faroe Islands.

Nevertheless, there are politicians, mainly in the right-wing Union Party (Sambandsflokkurin), led by their chairman Kaj Leo Johannesen, who would like to see the Faroes as a member of the EU. However, the chairman of the left-wing Republic (Tjóðveldi), Høgni Hoydal, has expressed concerns that if the Faroes were to join the EU as is, they might vanish inside the EU, comparing this with the situation of the Shetland Islands and Åland today, and wants the local government to solve the political situation between the Faroes and Denmark first.[154]


Greenland, a self-governing community that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, entered the EC with Denmark in 1973, because it had no local independence at that time. After the establishment of Greenland's home rule in 1979 (effective from 1980), it held a second referendum on membership. The result was (mainly because of the Common Fisheries Policy) to leave, so on 1 February 1985, Greenland left the EEC and EURATOM. Its status was changed to that of an Overseas Country.[151] Danish nationals residing in Greenland (i.e. all native population) are nonetheless fully European citizens; they are not, however, entitled to vote in European elections.

There has been some speculation as to whether Greenland may consider rejoining the European Union. On 4 January 2007 the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten quoted the former Danish minister for Greenland, Tom Høyem, as saying "I would not be surprised if Greenland again becomes a member of the EU... The EU needs the Arctic window and Greenland cannot alone manage the gigantic Arctic possibilities".[155] Greenland has a lot of natural resources, and Greenland has, especially during the 2000s commodities boom, contracted private companies to exploit some of them, but the cost is considered too high, as Greenland is remote and severely lacks infrastructure. After 2013 prices have declined so such efforts have stalled.

The Brexit debate has reignited talk about the EU in Greenland, and there have been calls for the island to rejoin the Union.[156]

Dutch constituent countries and special municipalities

The islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba are special Dutch municipalities. All are Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) under Annex II of the EC treaty.[151] OCTs are considered to be "associated" with the EU and apply some portions of EU law. The islands are opting to become an Outermost Region (OMR) of the EU, the same status the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and the French overseas departments have.

When Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba were established as Dutch public bodies after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles (which was an OCT) in 2010, their status within the EU were raised. Rather than change their status from an OCT to an outermost region, as their change in status within the Netherlands would imply, it was decided that their status would remain the same for at least five years. After those five years, their status would be reviewed.

If it was decided that one or all of the islands wish to integrate more with the EU then the Treaty of Lisbon provides for that following a unanimous decision from the European Council.[157] Former European Commissioner for Enlargement Danuta Hübner has said before the European Parliament that she does not expect many problems to occur with such a status change, as the population of the islands is only a few thousand people.

French overseas departments and territories

The territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion are overseas departments of France and at the same time mono-departmental overseas regions. According to the EC treaty (article 299 2), all of these departments are outermost regions (OMR) of the EU—hence provisions of the EC treaty apply there while derogations are allowed. The status of the Overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin is also defined as OMR by the Treaty of Lisbon. New Caledonia and the overseas collectivities of French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint Pierre et Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna are Overseas Countries and Territories of the EU.[151]

New Caledonia

New Caledonia is an overseas territory of France with its own unique status under the French Constitution, which is distinct from that of overseas departments and collectivities. It is defined as an "overseas country" under the 1998 Nouméa Accord, and enjoys a high degree of self-government.[158] Currently, in regard to the EU, it is one of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT).

As a result of the Nouméa Accord, New Caledonians voted on an independence referendum in November 2018. This referendum was to determine whether the territory would remain a part of the French Republic as a "sui generis collectivity", or whether it would become an independent state. The accords also specify a gradual devolution of powers to the local New Caledonian assembly. The referendum's result was that New Caledonia would remain a part of the French Republic.

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