The Copenhagen criteria - the criteria whose fulfillment enables the European State to apply for membership in the European Union. At the summit of the European Council in Copenhagen on 21 and 22 June 1993, a policy of conditional admissions of candidates to the European Union was launched, and the only exception was given to providing assistance and limited political cooperation based on association agreements. At the summit, EU leaders agreed that associated countries wishing to do so could become members of the Union once certain political and economic criteria were met. The following criteria were defined:
On the part of the candidate country:
- the candidate country has achieved the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and respect for and protection of minorities,
- functioning of the market economy,
- the existence of a potential that can cope with the competition and market forces of the Union,
- the ability to assume the obligations of membership, including the fulfillment of the objectives of the Political, Economic and Monetary Union,
On the side of the Member States:
- independent criterion - the ability of the European Union to accept a new member country in the absence of a change in the dynamics of the integration process, because its behavior depends on both the European Union and the candidate country. What matters is not only whether the candidate meets the right conditions, but also whether other European Union countries will manage to resolve integration disputes properly. Thus, in the case of Turkey's candidature, the fourth Copenhagen criterion was voiced expressing the fear that Turkey's accession to the European Union would threaten the process of its integration. The decision taken at the European Council summit in Brussels in 2004 marked the historic start of the annex negotiations without a guarantee of a positive outcome for Turkey. The adoption of a new country must not jeopardize the pursuit of the evolutionary goal of the European Union, which, according to art. 1 of the European Union Treaty is to shape the "ever closer union between the peoples of Europe".
The criteria are also divided into three groups:
- political criteria that include the requirement for stable institutions to ensure the smooth functioning of a democratic state of law and respect for human rights and national minorities. This is called the first Copenhagen criterion, which until the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam had no legally binding effect. TA has made its communitarisation, introducing into art. 49 TEU, specifying the conditions for the acquisition of membership, a direct reference to art. 6 par. 1 TEU (the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States)
- economic criteria that include the requirement of a functioningly functioning market economy and the ability to cope with competition and pressure from market forces within the Union.
- volitional criteria - will and ability of the candidate to accept and fulfill obligations resulting from membership in the European Union, as well as to adapt to the objectives of the Political, Economic and Monetary Union. The basic measure of this ability is the adaptation of national law to the acquis communautaire.
The process of verification and joining the European Union
Under the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty, any European country can apply for membership in the Union. The approval of meeting the above criteria is a condition for starting and completing subsequent accession processes. These reports are presented by the European Commission to the European Council. With the consent of the European Parliament, the Council of the Union can take a decision on this matter, which must be unanimous. Subsequently, the Member States conclude an agreement with the candidate country on the terms of admission and the resulting adjustments. The contract is subject to ratification by all European states in accordance with their constitutional provisions.
This process can be divided into five stages:
- diplomatic arrangements and submission of a formal application for a candidacy submitted to the Presidency of the European Council, informing the European Parliament and the parliaments of the Member States
- Council decision regarding the fulfillment of the membership criteria (e.g. in the case of Poland - December 1997)
- negotiating the terms of the accession agreement (e.g. in the case of Poland - starting in March 1998)
- drafting the treaty by the relevant services of the Commission, the European Council and the Member State, presenting it to the Council, the opinion of the Commission, the consent of the European Parliament, making a final decision (e.g. in the case of Poland - April 2003)
- solemn signing of the treaty (e.g. in the case of Poland - April 14, 2003)
- ratification of the agreement by the Member States and the candidate country, submission of documents to the depositary (Government of the Italian Republic), accession to the European Union (e.g. in the case of Poland - 1 May 2004)
A vague way of formulating
The way in which the Copenhagen economic and political criteria are formulated is vague, which has both positive and negative effects. Unfortunately, the general way of defining the criteria did not allow for an unambiguous interpretation, which resulted in the risk that the Union would use them to shift talks on potential membership under the pretext of unfulfilled Copenhagen candidate criteria. In turn, the lack of precision and unambiguous indicators of the membership capability allowed the acceptance of applications that would not have a chance under the more stringent rules.
- Hillion, C. (2014). The Copenhagen criteria and their progeny. EU enlargement (Oxford, Hart Publishing, 2004).
- Ramanathan, V., & Xu, Y. (2010). The Copenhagen Accord for limiting global warming: Criteria, constraints, and available avenues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(18), 8055-8062.
- Marktler, T. (2006). The power of the Copenhagen criteria. Croatian yearbook of European law & policy, 2(2.), 343-363.