The enlargement of the European Union has been much talked about recently.  Whether it is the influx of workers from the new member states who joined in 2004, the ongoing discussion about whether Turkey should become a member, or the succession of Romania and Bulgaria, which is set for 2007, enlargement has rarely been out of the news.

The enlargement in 2004 was the fifth in the history of the European Union, and signified the healing of the rift that split Europe in 1945, separating the Communist east and capitalist west.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the EU moved to help rebuild democracies in the east, and help with economic reform.  In 1993 it was stated that countries in central and eastern Europe who wanted to could become members, and three criteria for membership were laid down:

  • Countries must have suitable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
  • Countries must have a functioning market economy and be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.
  • Countries must be able to adhere to the aims of the political, economic and monetary union, meaning countries must adopt the whole body of EU law, amounting to 26,000 pieces of legislation.

Each country then has to go through a series of negotiations and agreement, at the end of which the mechanisms and transition period each country needs for succession is set out.

Recently the most controversial negotiations have surrounded Turkey, which began in October 2005.  Concerns include Turkey's record on human rights, it's block on Cypriot shipping and France's proposed law which attempts to make denial of the alleged genocide of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Turks in 1915-17 illegal.

On 8 November a report into absorption capacity, the ability of the EU to enlarge further, by the European Commission is due.  The report will detail the readiness of the Union to welcome new members.

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