Membership criteria – Who can join?
The Treaty on the European Union states that any European country may apply for membership if it respects the democratic values of the EU and is committed to promoting them.
The first step is for the country to meet the key criteria for accession. These were mainly defined at the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993 and are hence referred to as 'Copenhagen criteria'. Countries wishing to join need to have:
- stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
- a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;
- the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
The EU also needs to be able to integrate new members.
In the case of the countries of the Western Balkans additional conditions for membership, were set out in the so-called 'Stabilisation and Association process', mostly relating to regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.
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B. Principles of enlargement
- Enlargement of the Alliance will be through accession of new member states to the Washington Treaty. Enlargement should :
- Accord with, and help to promote, the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and the safeguarding of the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of all Alliance members and their people, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. New members will need to conform to these basic principles;
- Accord strictly with Article 10 of the Washington Treaty which states that "the parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty ...";
- Be on the basis that new members will enjoy all the rights and assume all obligations of membership under the Washington Treaty; and accept and conform with the principles, policies and procedures adopted by all members of the Alliance at the time that new members join;
- Strengthen the Alliance's effectiveness and cohesion; and preserve the Alliance's political and military capability to perform its core functions of common defence as well as to undertake peacekeeping and other new missions;
- Be part of a broad European security architecture based on true cooperation throughout the whole of Europe. It would threaten no-one; and enhance stability and security for all of Europe;
- Take account of the continuing important role of PfP, which will both help prepare interested partners, through their participation in PfP activities, for the benefits and responsibilities of eventual membership and serve as a means to strengthen relations with partner countries which may be unlikely to join the Alliance early or at all. Active participation in the Partnership for Peace will play an important role in the evolutionary process of the enlargement of NATO;
- Complement the enlargement of the European Union, a parallel process which also, for its part, contributes significantly to extending security and stability to the new democracies in the East.
- New members, at the time that they join, must commit themselves, as all current Allies do on the basis of the Washington Treaty, to:
- unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security; settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations;
- contribute to the development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being;
- maintain the effectiveness of the Alliance by sharing roles, risks, responsibilities, costs and benefits of assuring common security goals and objectives.
- States which have ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes, including irredentist claims, or internal jurisdictional disputes must settle those disputes by peaceful means in accordance with OSCE principles. Resolution of such disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance.
- Decisions on enlargement will be for NATO itself. Enlargement will occur through a gradual, deliberate, and transparent process, encompassing dialogue with all interested parties. There is no fixed or rigid list of criteria for inviting new member states to join the Alliance. Enlargement will be decided on a case-by-case basis and some nations may attain membership before others. New members should not be admitted or excluded on the basis of belonging to some group or category. Ultimately, Allies will decide by consensus whether to invite each new member to join according to their judgment of whether doing so will contribute to security and stability in the North Atlantic area at the time such a decision is to be made. NATO enlargement would proceed in accordance with the provisions of the various OSCE documents which confirm the sovereign right of each state to freely seek its own security arrangements, to belong or not to belong to international organisations, including treaties of alliance. No country outside the Alliance should be given a veto or droit de regard over the process and decisions.
- NATO's collective defence arrangements, as described in paragraphs 47 and 48, are a concrete expression of Allies' commitment to maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack. Against the background of existing arrangements for contributing to collective defence, Allies will want to know how possible new members intend to contribute to NATO's collective defence and will explore all aspects of this question in detail through bilateral dialogue prior to accession negotiations.
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