The history of European integration is inextricably linked with the process of Community expansion. So, in 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the founding countries of the European Communities, in Greece Greece, in 1986 Spain and Portugal, and in 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden. Initially, this process concerned only the non-aligned capitalist countries of Western Europe (including Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, which still refuse to join the Community). However, after the fundamental changes that took place in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the USSR, the expansion agenda became relevant for this part of the continent.
This was first discussed at a session of the European Council held in 1988 on Rodeo Island and at the Paris Summit (1989) of the Big Seven (G-7). The European Commission has taken on the role of coordinator of assistance to the CEE countries. This assistance was structured as part of the PHARE program (PHARE — Poland and Hungary Assistance for the Restructuring of the Economy), originally intended for these two Eastern European states, but later extended to other CEE countries. In 1992, the program was integrated into the structure of the European Agreements and turned into the main financial instrument for preparing CEE countries for EU accession. Its main goals are: assistance in adapting the national legislations of the candidate countries to EU legislation and financing of investment projects (up to 70% of the program budget) in the territories of the candidate countries.
At a European Council session in Strasbourg in December 1989, France made a proposal (supported not only by the Community, but also by the United States, Japan, and other OECD countries) to create a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
At the same time, the Community began to liberalize imports, first from Hungary and Poland, and then from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania, bringing it to the level of a preferential regime under the general system of preferences, which ensured duty-free import of industrial products.
The next step in expanding the zone of European integration was the conclusion of association agreements between the EU and CEE countries, called the European Agreements. In August 1990, the European Council approved the UK proposal for an association of CEE countries with the EU. In 1992, Association Agreements were concluded with Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, in 1993 with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in 1995 with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and in 1996 with Slovenia.
In 1993, at a meeting of the European Council in Copenhagen, it was decided in principle that the associated CEE countries, if there is a will on their part, could become members of the European Union by fulfilling a number of «Copenhagen membership criteria», including:
- the existence of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, legal order, respect for human rights and the protection of national minorities;
- the presence of a market economy that can cope with competition and the action of market forces in the Union;
- willingness to accept membership obligations (acquis communautaire), including the desire to become members of the Economic and Monetary Union.
Establishment of clear membership criteria for CEE countries served as the basis for official applications for EU membership: Hungary and Poland in 1994, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Bulgaria in 1995, the Czech Republic and Slovenia in 1996 .
At the Essen session of the EU Council 1994, a program was approved for preparing these countries for EU accession — the White Paper “Preparing Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe for Integration into the Internal Market of the European Union”. At the Madrid session of the European Council in 1995, an official decision was made on the timing of the start of negotiations on the accession of the associated CEE countries.
During 1997, the European Commission and 11 candidate countries (10 CEE and Cyprus) agreed on the terms and conditions for the start of accession negotiations. At the Luxembourg Council of Europe (December 1997), called the enlargement summit, the list of states that are closer than others was announced approached the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria: Cyprus, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia. The ceremonial opening of negotiations with the “first wave” countries took place on March 30, 1998. At the European Council session in Helsinki in December 1999, it was decided to start negotiations on joining the European Union with the remaining five CEE countries with which the European Agreements had previously been signed: Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania , Bulgaria, Romania, as well as with Malta. Negotiations with the countries of the “second group” or the “Helsinki group” officially opened on February 15, 2000 in Brussels.
The Nice Treaty of 2000 determined the political weight of the candidate countries as part of the governing bodies of the future enlarged EU, fixing in the form of an EU treaty the inevitability of new countries from Central and Eastern Europe.
Negotiations on many of the most problematic articles of EU law have already been completed, with the exception of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
EU Brussels Summit (November 2002) confirming accession to the EU on May 1, 2004 Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.
With regard to Turkey, the summit called for continued membership negotiations, on the one hand taking into account the successes made by this country in building a market economy and democracy, but on the other, pointing to the continued tensions with Greece over the Cyprus problem and poor progress in respecting human rights . The European Council said that subject to meeting the Copenhagen criteria for democracy and respect for human rights, in December 2004 the European Commission will automatically begin negotiations with Turkey on accession.
On December 17, 2005, the official status of an EU candidate was granted to Macedonia.
On February 21, 2005, the European Union signed an action plan with Ukraine. However, according to the leadership of the EU, it is not worth talking about the full membership of Ukraine in the European Union, because for this it is necessary to prove that in Ukraine there is a full-fledged democracy that meets international standards, and to carry out political, economic and social reforms.
In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU.
The leadership of Georgia has repeatedly stated its intention to join the EU, however, the negotiation process on this issue cannot begin until the conflict with unrecognized states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is resolved. Moldova has a similar problem with the move towards European integration — the leadership of the unrecognized Transnistrian Moldavian Republic does not support the desire of Moldova to join the European Union.
On April 28, 2008, Albania filed an official application for EU membership.
In 2009, Iceland applied for EU membership. On June 13, 2013, an official statement was made to withdraw the application for the country’s accession to the European Union. In December 2011, an agreement was signed with Croatia on EU accession. In July 2013, Croatia became a member of the European Union.