Negotiations on membership in the European Union

What are negotiations on membership in the EU?

Accession negotiations represent the final stage of a candidate country’s integration process to the European Union.In order to open accession negotiations with the EU, it is presumed that the state concerned has fulfilled all of its commitments preceding this stage i.e. that it has concluded an association agreement, acquired candidate status and is able to enter the final and most difficult phase of the European integration process.Accession negotiations are in fact negotiations on the conditions under which a candidate country joins the European Union.

What is the topic of the negotiations?

Negotiations are held on the terms under which the candidate country joins the EU, which basically relate to meeting the third Copenhagen criteria, i.e. alignment of national legislation with the EU acquis.The result of the negotiations is the Treaty of Accession between Serbia and the European Union.

For the purposes of negotiations, the EU acquis is divided into 35 chapters and negotiations are under way for each chapter separately.The basic principle of negotiations is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed upon.The subject of the negotiations are areas such as participation in the work of joint institutions (number of seats in the European Parliament, the number of votes in the Council of Ministers, etc.), the common agricultural policy, environmental protection, regional and structural policy, energy, transport, protection of competition and state aid, statistics, social policy, economic and monetary union and budgetary policy).

The new approach of the European Commission relating to the negotiations with future member states first requires the opening of negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24, which cover the area of judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security.

Who is participating in the negotiations?

Participants in the accession negotiations are the Member States of the European Union and candidate countries. Negotiations are conducted within the framework of bilateral intergovernmental conferences with the participation of representatives of EU Member States, the European Commission, on the one hand, and representatives of candidate countries on the other.Negotiating positions in behalf of the Member States of the EU are represented by the President of the European Council, while a special mission led by the head of mission from the highest political level advocates on behalf of a candidate country, mostly from the ranks of minister, including the chief negotiator and negotiating team.

What is the procedure in the negotiation process?

After the negotiations are generally closed for all chapters, their results are included in the draft Treaty of Accession.On the basis of this draft, the European Commission makes a recommendation on a candidate country’s application for membership and reports the Member States of the completion and results of the negotiations, while the decision on the accession of new countries to the European Union is adopted by the EU Council unanimously.

The candidate state then becomes an acceding state.

When the Treaty of Accession is signed by representatives of the highest authorities of EU Member States and an acceding country, the ratification process follows.This agreement specifies the date envisaged for the country to join the EU, usually a year and a half after the signing of the Treaty of Accession.In the period from the signing to the date of accession, it is essential that all states that are signatories of the agreement complete ratification.After ratification, the Treaty shall enter into force.


• The European Council considers the report of the European Commission and the High Representative on fulfilling the criteria for the opening of negotiations and makes a recommendation to the European Commission to begin drafting a Negotiating framework for negotiations with the candidate country and commence the screening process.

• The Negotiating framework is prepared by the Commission and it is submitted to the Council for adoption.

• The Council adopts the Negotiating framework and schedules a date for the Intergovernmental Conference − IGC, provided that this decision is confirmed by the European Council (the European Council always holds a session a day after the meeting of the Council, which is actually responsible for organising it)

• The first step in the negotiations is screening, i.e. an analytical review of legislation, which consists of two phases:

a. Explanatory screening, in which the European Commission presents to representatives of a candidate country the EU acquis in a specific chapter.

b. Bilateral screening, in which a candidate country presents to the European Commission its legislation and determines differences between the two systems.

Based on these meetings, the European Commission adopts a Screening Report.In this report, the European Commission establishes that the legislation of a candidate country is sufficiently aligned with the EU law, thus a recommendation is made to immediately open negotiations on the given chapter.The European Commission may also conclude that the state is not prepared to begin negotiations on a given chapter, which is why the European Commission establishes benchmarks that a candidate country must meet in order to open negotiations on a given chapter.For example, Croatia had 23 benchmarks in 11 out of the 35 chapters.

• The screening process takes on average about 12 to 15 months.

• After screening, the Commission submits a screening report to the Council, which considers it and invites the candidate country to submit its negotiating position for a given chapter.

• Based on the screening report, a candidate country delivers its negotiating position to the European Union, with requests for transitional periods and exemptions from full implementation of EU law after acquiring membership.

• Based on the recommendation of the Commission and the candidate country’s negotiating position, the Council adopts a Common EU Position for negotiations on a given chapter that contains a decision on opening negotiations and closing benchmarks for the given chapter.

• After opening a negotiation chapter, a candidate country works on ensuring full alignment with EU law and meeting the closing benchmarks.When the EC finds that the closing benchmarks are met, it recommends to the Council to adopt a common position on temporary closure of a given chapter.The Council makes a decision on temporary closure of the chapter (with the political approval of the European Council).

A new approach to negotiations

• The novelty of the methodology of the accession negotiations endorsed by the EU in the negotiations with Montenegro in relation to the negotiations with Croatia is to place a focus on chapters 23 and 24 covering the field of judiciary and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security.Screening is first performed for these chapters and they remain open during the entire course of the negotiations.The uneven progress in the negotiations in these two chapters can lead to a standstill in the opening or closing of other chapters.

• Another innovation is the introduction of interim benchmarks in these two chapters that allow the monitoring of progress after their opening.These benchmarks will be included in the EU Common Position on the opening of negotiations in these two chapters, which means that another decision will be necessary, EU Common Position defining the fulfilment of opening benchmarks and determining closing benchmarks for these chapters.

• When the last chapter is provisionally closed, the Council adopts another decision regarding the completion of accession negotiations and signing of the Treaty of Accession with the European Union.

How did Croatia, Turkey and Montenegro conduct their negotiations?

• Croatia

At a summit held on 17 June 2004, the European Council considered Croatia’s request for membership and the recommendation from the Commission to open accession negotiations.The Council approved Croatia the status of candidate country and decided that the accession process should commence.The European Council decided to convene an intergovernmental conference in early 2005 and began negotiations with Croatia. Prior to the opening of negotiations, the Council has a mandate to adopt a negotiating platform.

At the summit of 16 December 2004, the European Council decided that negotiations would be opened on 17 March 2005, provided that Croatia fully cooperated with the ICTY. The European Council invited the EC to submit a draft of the platform to the Council for adoption.

In March 2005, the Council decided to postpone the opening of negotiations with Croatia due to insufficient cooperation with the ICTY.

At a meeting held on 3 October 2005, the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) made a decision on the immediate opening of negotiations with Croatia, after the EU ministerial working group gave a positive assessment of Croatia’s cooperation with the Hague Tribunal.

Negotiations were opened on 3 October 2005 at the First Intergovernmental Conference on Accession.

The negotiations were completed on 30 June 2011, when negotiations regarding the last chapter were provisionally closed.

Croatia’s Treaty of Accession with the European Union was signed on 9 December 2011, while February 2013 was set as the date for the official reception of Croatia in the EU.

• Turkey

On 17 June 2004, the European Council decided that negotiations with Turkey would be opened without delay if the European Council established that Turkey fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria at a summit held in December 2004, regarding which the EC was obliged to submit a report and make appropriate recommendations.

At a summit held on 16 − 17 December 2004, the European Council invited the EC to submit to them the negotiating framework (platform) for negotiations with Turkey for adoption.3 October 2005 was set as the date for starting negotiations.

At a meeting held on 3 October 2005, the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council approved a negotiating platform for negotiations with Turkey.

Negotiations were opened on 3 October 2005 at the First Intergovernmental Conference on Accession.

• Montenegro

At a summit held on 9 December 2011, the European Council welcomed the EC report pointing out the progress of Montenegro and achievement of satisfactory results in fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria.The European Council has tasked the EC to, without delay, prepare and submit for approval the negotiation platform and initiate the screening process.June 2012 was set as the date for opening negotiations, under the condition that Montenegro achieved further progress in implementing reforms, particularly in the area of fight against corruption and organised crime, which the EC noted in a report submitted in the first half of 2012.

At a meeting on 26 June 2012, the General Affairs Council accepted the EC assessment that Montenegro had achieved the necessary level of compliance with the Copenhagen criteria.The General Affairs Council adopted a negotiating framework for negotiations with Montenegro.The Council decided that negotiations should begin on 29 June 2012, provided that the decision was confirmed by the European Council.

At a summit held on 28 − 29 June 2012, the European Council confirmed the conclusion of the General Affairs Council concerning Montenegro.

Negotiations were opened on 29 June 2012 at the First Intergovernmental Conference on Accession.