COM (2005) 561 final
Enlargement is one of the EUs most powerful policy tools. The pull of the EU has helped transform Central and Eastern Europe from communist regimes to modern, well-functioning democracies. More recently, it has inspired tremendous reforms in Turkey, Croatia and the Western Balkans. All European citizens benefit from having neighbours that are stable democracies and prosperous market economies. It is vitally important for the EU to ensure a carefully managed enlargement process that extends peace, stability, prosperity, democracy, human rights and the rule of law across Europe.
After generations of division and conflict, the EU is peacefully creating a united Europe. Ten new members joined in 2004, and the EU signed an accession treaty with Bulgaria and Romania in April 2005. In October 2005, the Union opened accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, and negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia and Montenegro. Each of these events was justified by the countries progress in meeting the relevant conditions.
The Western Balkans is a particular challenge for the EU. Enlargement policy needs to demonstrate its power of transformation in a region where states are weak and societies divided. A convincing political perspective for eventual integration into the EU is crucial to keep their reforms on track. But it is equally clear that these countries can join only once they have met the criteria in full.
Enlargement policy is defined by Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, which states that any European State which respects the EUs fundamental democratic principles may apply to become a member of the Union. The EU has set political and economic criteria for membership, as well as criteria related to the obligations of membership and the administrative capacity to implement and enforce the EUs laws and policies. The three basic principles of the Commissions approach to enlargement are consolidation, conditionality and communication.