A member state of the European Union is a state that is party to treaties of the European Union (EU) and has thereby undertaken the privileges and obligations that EU membership entail. Unlike membership of an international organisation, being an EU member state places a country under binding laws in exchange for representation in the EU's legislative and judicial institutions. On the other hand, unlike being a member of a federation (such as a U.S. state) EU states maintain a great deal of autonomy, including maintaining their national military and foreign policy (where they have not agreed to European action in that area).
Since 2007 there have been twenty-seven EU member states. Six core states founded the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, in 1957 and the remaining states joined in subsequent enlargements. Before being allowed to join the EU, a state must fulfil the economic and political conditions generally known as the Copenhagen criteria. These basically require a candidate to have a democratic, free market government together with the corresponding freedoms and institutions, and respect the rule of law. Enlargement of the Union is conditional upon the agreement of each existing member and the candidate's adoption of all pre-existing EU law.
There is a wide disparity in the size, wealth and political system of member states, but all have equal rights. While in some areas majority voting takes place where larger states have more votes than smaller ones, smaller states have disproportional representation compared to their population. As of 2011 no member state has withdrawn or been suspended from the EU, though some dependent territories or semi-autonomous areas have left.
|Austria||Republik Österreich||1995||> (in English). Eurostat. 2010-01-01. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&language=en&pcode=tps00001&tableSelection=1&footnotes=yes&labeling=labels&plugin=1. Retrieved 2010-01-08.||>Report for Selected Countries and Subjects IMF||>UNDP.org||>Human Development Report 2009 - HDI rankings, UNDP, accessed 1 June 2010||Vienna||German||–|
Royaume de Belgique
|Czech Republic||Česká republika||2004||/>||/>||/>||/>||Prague||Czech||–|
|Germany||Bundesrepublik Deutschland||>On , the constituent states of the former German Democratic Republic acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany, automatically becoming part of the EU.||/>||/>||/>||/>||Berlin||German||–|
|Luxembourg||Grand-Duché de Luxembourg
|Malta||Repubblika ta' Malta
Republic of Malta
|Netherlands||Koninkrijk der Nederlanden||>1957Founder||/>||/>||/>||/>||Amsterdam||Dutch
|Spain||Reino de España||1986||/>||/>||/>||/>||Madrid||Spanish
|United Kingdom||United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland
Enlargement has been a principal feature of the Union's political landscape. The EU's predecessors were founded by the "Inner Six", those countries willing to forge ahead with the Community while others remained sceptical. It was only 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 that Britain's third application succeeded, 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 Greenland from Denmark's membership in 1985, three more countries joined the Communities before the end of the Cold War. In 1987, the geographical extent of the project was tested when Morocco applied, and was rejected as it was not considered a European country.
1990 saw the Cold War drawing to a close, and East Germany 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. Ten 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. Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey are all formal, acknowledged candidates. Turkish membership, pending since the 1980s, is a more contentious issue but it entered negotiations in 2004. 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 (the 170,000 pages of acquis communautaire) and joining the euro. As well as enlargement to new countries, the EU can expand by having territories of member states which are outside the EU integrate more closely (for example in respect to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles) or a territory of a member state seceded then rejoined (see withdrawal below).
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). The Presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates between each of the member states, allowing each state six months to help direct the agenda of the EU.
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 Parliament 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 Commission (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 six largest states are also granted an Advocates General in the Court of Justice. Finally, the governing of the European Central Bank 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. This, together with the disproportionate representation of the smaller states in terms of votes and seats in parliament, gives the smaller EU states a greater clout than normally attributed to a state of their size. However most negotiations are still dominated by the larger states. This has traditionally been largely through the "Franco-German motor" but the Franco-German role influence has diminished slightly following the influx of new members in 2004 (see G6).