1995 - Sweden, Finland and Austria joined the European Union.
1996 - Malta applied to enter the EU. This application was soon frozen till 1998.
1997 - At its summit in Luxembourg in December 1997, the European Council decided that the enlargement process should encompass:
o the European Conference, a multilateral framework bringing together ten central European countries, Cyprus and Turkey, which was launched on 12 March 1998;
o the accession process, covering ten central European countries and Cyprus, which was launched on 30 March 1998;
o the accession negotiations, which the European Council decided to open on 31 March 1998 with six countries, as recommended by the EuropeanCommission: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.
1998 - Malta reactivated its application for Community membership made in 1996.
1998 - The EU formally launched the process that will make enlargement possible. It embraces the following thirteen applicant countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Turkey.
1999 - The Commission adopted its reports and a general composite paper on the progress made by each of the candidate countries (ten central European countries, Cyprus, Malta and Turkey) towards accession. They show that all countries except Turkey fulfil the political criteria for accession and that only Cyprus and Malta fully meet the economic criteria. Based on these regular reports, the Commission has recommended to open negotiations with Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and also with Bulgaria and Romania but subject to certain conditions for the latter two. The Commission has also recommended to conduct accession negotiations through a differentiated approach taking account of the progress made by each candidate.
1999 - A new institutional process was put in train by the decision taken by the European Council meeting in Helsinki to convene an intergovernmental conference with the aim inter alia of adapting the treaties to the conditions whereby a Union enlarged to over 20 members can function smoothly.
2000 - Negotiations with Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malta on the conditions for their entry into the Union and the ensuing Treaty adjustments started. As for Turkey - The European Council welcomed recent positive developments in Turkey, as well as its intention to continue its reforms towards complying with the Copenhagen criteria. In doing so, Turkey is considered as a candidate State to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate States.
December, 2000 - By agreeing - on a Treaty of Nice, the EU member states also removed the last formal obstacle to moving ahead with the EU enlargement process. The conclusions go on to say that "the time has now come to lend fresh impetus to the process". The summit broadly endorsed the enlargement strategy proposed by the Commission, and emphasised "the principle of differentiation, based on each candidate country's own merits", and "allowance of scope for catching up". The road map for the next 18 months will ease the way for further negotiations, bearing in mind that those countries which are the best prepared will continue to be able to progress more quickly, the summit concluded.
Meanwhile, the summit expressed appreciation for the efforts made by the candidates, and requested them "to continue and speed up the necessary reforms to prepare themselves for accession, particularly as regards strengthening their administrative capacity, so as to be able to join the Union as soon as possible". And it welcomed the establishment of economic and financial dialogue with the candidate countries.
2003 - The Union has declared that it will be ready to welcome new countries from the start of 2003.
The weighting of votes in the future council
The Treaty of Nice signed at the summit decided not only on voting rights for the current fifteen member states, but also on the votes that the candidates will have as they become member states. The full list is as follows:
Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy - 29
Spain and Poland - 27
Romania - 14
Netherlands - 13
Greece, Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary, Portugal - 12
Sweden, Bulgaria, Austria - 10
Slovakia, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania - 7
Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg - 4
Malta - 3
Total - 342
A qualified majority in the new voting system will be 255 (74.56%).
The enlargement facing the EU today poses a unique challenge, since it is without precedent in terms of scope and diversity: the number of candidates, the area (increase of 34%) and population (increase of 105 million), the wealth of different histories and cultures. Third countries will significantly benefit from an enlarged Union.
The challenges of the future
After a half century of Community history, Europeans still have a lot of soul-searching to do: How far could and should the Union be taken in order to maximise the strength which derives from unity, without at the same time eroding identity and destroying the individual ethos which makes the richness of our nations, regions and cultures? Can they move forward in step, thanks to the natural harmony which favours consensus between 15 countries, or should they recognise divergences of approach and differentiate their pace of integration? What are the limits of Community Europe, at a time when so many nations, starting with the new democracies of central and eastern Europe and the Balkans, along with Turkey, are asking to join the process of unification in progress? How can the people of Europe get everyone involved in the Community undertaking and give them the feeling of a European identity which complements and goes beyond fundamental solidarity?
All these are questions of principle, fundamental questions the answers to which will themselves determine the specific and technical matters addressed daily by those who have the task of taking this Community undertaking forward.