The European Union is composed of 27 independent sovereign states which are known as member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
- 1952 = Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands
- 1973 + Denmark, Ireland, UK
- 1981 + Greece
- 1986 + Portugal, Spain
- 1995 + Austria, Finland, Sweden
- 2004 + Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
- 2007 + Bulgaria, Romania
There are three official candidate countries, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey. The western Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia are officially recognised as potential candidates.
Kosovo is also listed by the European Commission as a potential candidate but the Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states recognise it as an independent country, separate from Serbia.
To join the EU, a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These require a stable democracy which respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy capable of competition within the EU; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country’s fulfilment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council. The current framework does not specify how a country could exit the Union (although Greenland, a Territory of Denmark, withdrew in 1985), but the proposed Treaty of Lisbon contains a formal procedure for withdrawing.
Four Western European countries that have chosen not to join the EU have partly committed to the EU’s economy and regulations: Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland has similar ties through bilateral treaties. The relationships of the European microstates: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican include the use of the euro and other areas of co-operation
Wikipedia, May 2009