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A Member State of the European Union is any one of the 27 sovereign states that have acceded to the European Union (EU) since its de facto inception in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). From an original membership of six states, there have been six successive enlargements, the largest occurring on 1 May 2004, when ten states joined. The EU is currently composed of twenty republics, six kingdom, and one grand duchy.

Bulgariamarker and Romaniamarker are the most recent Member States, joining on 1 January 2007. Negotiations are also under way with a number of other states. The process of enlargement is sometimes referred to as European integration. However, this term is also used to refer to the intensification of cooperation between EU Member States as national governments allow for the gradual harmonisation of national laws. Before being allowed to join the European Union, a state must fulfil the economic and political conditions generally known as the Copenhagen criteria. These basically require that a candidate Member State must enjoy a secular, democratic system of government, together with the corresponding freedoms and institutions, and respect the rule of law. Under the terms of the Treaty on European Union, enlargement of the Union is conditional upon the agreement of each existing Member State as well as approval by the European Parliamentmarker.




Common name

Official name



Area (km²)


Special territories
Austriamarker Republic of Austria Viennamarker
Belgiummarker Kingdom of Belgium Brusselsmarker
Bulgariamarker Republic of Bulgaria Sofiamarker
Cyprusmarker Republic of Cyprus Nicosiamarker
Czech Republicmarker Czech Republic Praguemarker
Denmarkmarker Kingdom of Denmark Copenhagenmarker
Estoniamarker Republic of Estonia Tallinnmarker
Finlandmarker Republic of Finland Helsinkimarker
Francemarker French Republic Parismarker

Germanymarker Federal Republic of Germany Berlinmarker
Greecemarker Hellenic Republic Athensmarker
Hungarymarker Republic of Hungary Budapestmarker
Irelandmarker Ireland Dublinmarker
Italymarker Italian Republic Romemarker
Latviamarker Republic of Latvia Rigamarker
Lithuaniamarker Republic of Lithuania Vilniusmarker
Luxembourgmarker Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Luxembourgmarker
Maltamarker Republic of Malta Vallettamarker
Netherlandsmarker Kingdom of the Netherlands Amsterdammarker
Polandmarker Republic of Poland Warsawmarker
Portugalmarker Portuguese Republic Lisbonmarker
Romaniamarker Romania Bucharestmarker
Slovakiamarker Slovak Republic Bratislavamarker
Sloveniamarker Republic of Slovenia Ljubljanamarker
Spainmarker Kingdom of Spain Madridmarker
Swedenmarker Kingdom of Sweden Stockholmmarker
United Kingdommarker United Kingdom of Great Britain

and Northern Ireland

EU-27 European Union total



Animated map showing the enlargement;

Enlargement has been a principal feature of the Union's political landscape. The Union was founded by the "Inner Six", those countries willing to forge ahead with the Community while others remained sceptical. It was but a decade before the first countries changed their policy and attempted to join the Union, which led to the first scepticism of enlargement. French President Charles de Gaulle feared British membership would be an American Trojan horse and vetoed its application. It was only after de Gaulle left office and a 12-hour talk by British Prime Minister Edward Heath and French President George Pompidou took place did Britain's third application succeed (in 1970).

Applying in 1969 were Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. Norway however declined to accept the invitation to become a member, with the electorate voting against it leaving just the UK, Ireland and Denmark to join. But despite the setbacks, and the withdrawal of Greenlandmarker from Denmark's membership in 1985, three more countries would join the Communities before the end of the Cold War. In 1987, the geographical extent of the project was tested when Moroccomarker applied, and was rejected as it was not considered a European country.

1990 saw the Cold War drawing to a close, and East Germanymarker was welcomed into the Community as part of a reunited Germany. Shortly after the previously neutral countries of Austria, Finland and Sweden acceded to the new European Union, though Switzerland, which applied in 2002, froze its application due to opposition from voters while Norway, which had applied once more, had its voters reject membership again.) Meanwhile, the members of the former Eastern bloc and Yugoslavia were all starting to move towards EU membership. 10 of these joined in a "big bang" enlargement on 1 May 2004 symbolising the unification of East and Western Europe in the EU.

2007 saw the latest members, Bulgaria and Romania, accede to the Union and the EU has prioritised membership for the Western Balkans. Croatiamarker, Macedoniamarker and Turkeymarker are all formal, acknowledged candidates. Turkeymarker, which applied in the 1980s, is a more contentious issue but entered negotiations in 2004 (see Accession of Turkey to the European Union). There are at present no plans to cease enlargement; according to the Copenhagen criteria, membership of the European Union is open to any European country that is a stable, free market liberal democracy that respects the rule of law and human rights. Furthermore, it has to be willing to accept all the obligations of membership such as adopting all previously agreed law and joining the euro.

Related states

There are a number of countries with strong links with the EU, similar to elements of membership. Following Norway's failure to join the EU, it became one of the members of the European Economic Area which also includes Icelandmarker and Liechtensteinmarker (all former members have joined the EU and Switzerland rejected membership). The EEA links these countries into the EU's market, extending the four freedoms to these states. In return, they pay a membership fee and have to adopt most areas of EU law (which they do not have direct impact in shaping). The democratic repercussions of this have been described as "fax democracy" (waiting for new laws to be faxed in from Brusselsmarker rather than being involved).

A different example is Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, which has been under international supervision. The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina is an international administrator who has wide ranging powers over Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure the peace agreement is respected. The High Representative is also the EU's representative, and is in practice appointed by the EU. In this role, and since a major ambition of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to join the EU, the country has become a de facto protectorate of the EU. The EU appointed representative has the power to impose legislation and dismiss elected officials and civil servants, meaning the EU has greater direct control over Bosnia and Herzegovina than its own Member States. Indeed the state's flag was inspired by the EU's flag. In the same manner as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovomarker is under heavy EU influence, particularly after the de facto transfer from UN to EU authority. In theory Kosovo is supervised by EU missions, with justice and policing personal training and helping to build up the state institutions. However the EU mission does enjoy certain executive powers over the state and has a responsibility to maintain stability and order.


Each state has representation in the institutions of the European Union. Full membership gives the government of a Member State a seat in the Council of the European Union and European Council. When decisions are not being taken by consensus, votes are weighted so that a country with a greater population has more votes within the Council than a smaller country (although not exact, smaller countries have more votes than their population would allow relative to the largest countries).

Similarly, each state is assigned seats in Parliament according to their population (again, with the smaller countries receiving more seats per inhabitant than the larger ones). The members of the European Parliamentmarker have been elected by universal suffrage since 1979 (before which they were seconded from national parliaments).

The national governments appoint one member each to the European Commissionmarker (in accord with its president), the European Court of Justice (in accord with other members) and the Court of Auditors.Historically, larger Member States were granted an extra Commissioner. However, as the body grew, this right has been removed and each state is represented equally.

The largest states are granted an Advocates General in the Court of Justice.

Finally, the governing of the European Central Bankmarker is made up of the governors of each national central bank (who may or may not be government appointed).

The larger states traditionally carry more weight in negotiations, however smaller states can be effective impartial mediators and citizens of smaller states are often appointed to sensitive top posts to avoid competition between the larger states.


The founding treaties state that all Member States are indivisibly sovereign and of equal value. However the EU does follow a supranational system (similar to federalism) in European Community matters, in that combined sovereignty is delegated by each member to the institutions in return for representation within those institutions. Those institutions are then empowered to make laws and execute them at a European level. If a state fails to comply with the law of the European Union, it may be fined or have funds withdrawn. In extreme cases, there are provisions for the voting rights or membership of a state to be suspended. On issues outside the European Community (foreign policy, police and courts) less sovereignty is transferred, with issues being dealt with by consensus and cooperation.

However, as sovereignty still originates from the national level, it may be withdrawn by a Member State who wishes to leave. Hence, if a law is agreed that is not to the liking of a state, it may withdraw from the EU to avoid it. This however has not happened as the benefits of membership are often seen to outweigh any negative impact of certain laws. Furthermore, in realpolitik, concessions and political pressure may lead to a state accepting something not in their interests in order to improve relations and hence strengthen their position on other issues.

See also


  1. Includes the area (3,355 km²) but not the population (264,172 according to 2006 census) of the territory under control of the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The Government of Cyprus estimates the total population at 867,600 including Turkish Cypriots entitled to EU citizenship but excluding TRNC citizens who immigrated from Turkey after the 1974 invasion.
  2. Greenland left the European Community in 1985.
  3. The population figure for France includes the four overseas departments (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion), which are integral parts of the European Union, but does not include the overseas collectivities and territories, which are not part of the European Union. The population figure for Metropolitan France is 61,875,822.
  4. According to European Commission document published in January 2008, p.8: The following are not part of the territory of the European Community: French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Mayotte, 'Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France), Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles (Netherlands), Faroe Islands, Greenland (Denmark), Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Akrotiri and Dhekelia (Sovereign Base Areas), Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, the Falkland Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (United Kingdom) [1]
  5. On , the constituent states of the former German Democratic Republic acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany, automatically becoming part of the EU.
  6. "Kingdom of the Netherlands" is correct. See this article. However, only Netherlands (i.e. the European part) is fully subject to EU law.
  7. The population figure for the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) is 60,975,000 (mid-2007 estimate) and the population of Gibraltar is 28,875 (January 2008 estimate). The populations of the Crown Dependencies and the other 13 overseas territories are not included as they are not part of the European Union.
  8. "1971 Year in Review,"
  9. Ever closer union: joining the Community - BBC

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