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Euro-glossary Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Polish workers
The right to work in the EU is a sticking point
Twelve countries are currently queuing up to join the European Union's 15 member states.

First wave
The Czech Republic
Second wave

They have been divided into two groups - the first and second waves - depending on when they began negotiations.

Turkey is also a candidate country but its political situation means it has not yet begun negotiations.

Before they can become members, candidates must fulfil a number of conditions - known as the Copenhagen criteria. These are:

  • Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
  • A functioning market economy, which can deal with the market forces of the EU.
  • The ability to meet the obligations of membership, including keeping to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
  • The adoption and implementation of the acquis communautaire - the body of EU law.

The EU issues annual reports about how the candidate countries are getting on with the reforms necessary for EU membership.

But the EU also has its own work cut out in preparation for enlargement. Running a union of 27 rather than 15 members presents new challenges, and the EU has to find ways of dealing with them.

The Nice Treaty is dedicated to working out some of these problems.

It decides how many votes the new member states will get in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and how the votes of current members will have to change as a consequence.

It also puts a cap on the number of commissioners.

Irish hitch

The rejection of the Nice Treaty in a referendum in the Irish Republic has the potential to hold up the enlargement process. All 15 member states must ratify the treaty before it can come into force.

But EU officials insist that preparation for enlargement continues in spite of the "no" vote.

There are a number of other issues which remain unresolved.

There are particular concerns over how the Common Agricultural Policy will cope with a big and underdeveloped rural country like Poland.

And to pacify German and Austrian fears of a wave of cheap labour, the European Commission has suggested a transition period of up to seven years before citizens of the candidate countries may work in the rest of the EU.


Meanwhile, candidates want protective measures to prevent people from EU countries snapping up land and property.

Spain has also raised objections over the future of regional aid.

Once new, poorer members join, financial aid will be diverted away from the current beneficiaries, including Spain, to help them.

There is still no fixed date for when the first countries will join the EU, but at the Nice summit it was suggested that some may vote in the European parliamentary elections in 2004 - which presumes that they will already be members by then.

Poland and Estonia are still hoping to be in the European club by 2003 but with the ratification of the Nice Treaty still under doubt that looks more than a little optimistic.

See also:

13 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
13 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
12 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
12 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
12 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
20 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
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