Member state of the European Union
The European Union consists of 27 member states. Each member state is party to the founding treaties of the union and thereby shares in the privileges and obligations of membership. Unlike members of other international organisations, the member states of the EU have agreed by treaty to shared sovereignty through the institutions of the European Union in some aspects of government. Member states must agree unanimously for the EU to adopt some policies; for others, collective decision making is by qualified majority voting. Subsidiarity, meaning that decisions are taken collectively if and only if they cannot realistically be taken individually, is a founding principle of the EU.
In the 1950s, six core states founded the EU's predecessor European Communities. The remaining states have acceded in subsequent enlargements. To accede, a state must fulfill the economic and political requirements known as the Copenhagen criteria, which require a candidate to have a democratic, free-market government together with the corresponding freedoms and institutions, and respect for the rule of law. Enlargement of the Union is also contingent upon the consent of all existing members and the candidate's adoption of the existing body of EU law, known as the acquis communautaire.
Until 2020, no member state had ever withdrawn or been suspended from the EU, though some dependent territories or semi-autonomous areas had previously left. The UK government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union on 29 March 2017 to formally initiate the Brexit process. Completion occurred on 31 January 2020, with all other arrangements remaining in place during a transition period while a free trade agreement is negotiated.
|Name||Accession||Population||Area ||GDP||GDP per cap.||Currency||Gini||HDI||MEPs||Languages||ISO 3166-1 alpha-2||ISO 3166-1 alpha-3|
Outermost regionsThere are a number of overseas member state territories which are legally part of the EU, but have certain exemptions based on their remoteness. These "outermost regions" have partial application of EU law and in some cases are outside of Schengen or the EU VAT area—however they are legally within the EU. They all use the euro as their currency.
Acronymss have been used as a shorthand way of grouping countries by their date of accession.
- EU15 includes the fifteen countries in the European Union from 1 January 1995 to 1 May 2004. The EU15 comprised Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom. Eurostat still uses this expression.
- EU19 includes the countries in the EU15 as well as the central European member countries of the OECD: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovak Republic.
- EU11 is used to refer to the Central, Eastern and Baltic European member states that joined in 2004, 2007 and 2013: in 2004 the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia; in 2007 Bulgaria, Romania; and in 2013 Croatia.
- EU27 means all the member states. It was originally used in this sense from 2007 until Croatia's accession in 2013, and during the Brexit negotiations from 2017 until the United Kingdom's withdrawal on 31 January 2020 it came to mean all members except the UK.
- EU28 meant all the member states from the accession of Croatia in 2013 to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom in 2020.
- A8 is eight of the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia, that have low income per capita
- A2 is the countries that joined the EU in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania.
Changes in membership
AccessionAccording 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 switching to the euro. For a state to join the European Union, the prior approval of all current member states is required. In addition to enlargement by adding new countries, the EU can also expand by having territories of member states, which are outside the EU, integrate more closely or by a territory of a member state which had previously seceded and then rejoined.
SuspensionThere is no provision to expel a member state, but provides for the suspension of certain rights. Introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam, Article 7 outlines that if a member persistently breaches the EU's founding principles then the European Council can vote to suspend any rights of membership, such as voting and representation. Identifying the breach requires unanimity, but sanctions require only a qualified majority.
The state in question would still be bound by the obligations treaties and the Council acting by majority may alter or lift such sanctions. The Treaty of Nice included a preventive mechanism whereby the Council, acting by majority, may identify a potential breach and make recommendations to the state to rectify it before action is taken against it as outlined above. However, the treaties do not provide any mechanism to expel a member state outright.
SecessionThe Lisbon Treaty made the first provision of a member state to leave. The procedure for a state to leave is outlined in which also makes clear that "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements". Although it calls for a negotiated withdrawal between the seceding state and the rest of the EU, if no agreement is reached two years after the seceding state notifying of its intention to leave, it would cease to be subject to the treaties anyway. There is no formal limit to how much time a member state can take between adopting a policy of withdrawal, and actually triggering Article 50.
In a non-binding referendum in June 2016—the result of which the government promised to implement—the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the EU. The UK government triggered Article 50 on 29 March 2017. After an extended period of negotiation and internal political debate the United Kingdom eventually withdrew from the EU on 31st January 2020 concluding the first phase of the Brexit process.
Prior to 2016, no member state had ever voted to withdraw. However, French Algeria, Greenland and Saint-Barthélemy did cease being part of the EU in 1962, 1985, and 2012, respectively, due to status changes. The situation of Greenland being outside the EU while still subject to an EU member state had been discussed as a template for the pro-EU regions of the UK remaining within the EU or its single market.
Beyond the formal withdrawal of a member state, there are a number of independence movements such as Catalonia or Flanders which could result in a similar situation to Greenland. Were a territory of a member state to secede but wish to remain in the EU, some scholars claim it would need to reapply to join as if it were a new country applying from scratch. However, other studies claim internal enlargement is legally viable if, in case of a member state dissolution or secession, the resulting states are all considered successor states. There is also a European Citizens' Initiative that aims at guaranteeing the continuity of rights and obligations of the European citizens belonging to a new state arising from the democratic secession of a European Union member state.
RepresentationEach 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, qualified majority voting. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates among 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. The members of the European Parliament have been elected by universal suffrage since 1979.
The national governments appoint one member each to the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors. Prospective Commissioners must be confirmed both by the President of the Commission and by the European Parliament; prospective justices must be confirmed by the existing members. 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 Council of the European Central Bank includes the governors of the national central banks of each euro area country.
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 power of influence than is 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 Franco-German influence has diminished slightly following the influx of new members in 2004.
SovereigntyWhile the member states are sovereign, the union partially follows a supranational system for those functions agreed by treaty to be shared.. Previously limited to European Community matters, the practice, known as the 'community method', is currently used in many areas of policy. Combined sovereignty is delegated by each member to the institutions in return for representation within those institutions. This practice is often referred to as 'pooling of sovereignty'. 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 contrast to other organisations, the EU's style of integration has "become a highly developed system for mutual interference in each other's domestic affairs". However, on defence and foreign policy issues less sovereignty is transferred, with issues being dealt with by unanimity and co-operation. Very early on in the history of the EU, the unique state of its establishment and pooling of sovereignty was emphasised by the Court of Justice:
The question of whether EU law is superior to national law is subject to some debate. The treaties do not give a judgement on the matter but court judgements have established EU's law superiority over national law and it is affirmed in a declaration attached to the Treaty of Lisbon. Some national legal systems also explicitly accept the Court of Justice's interpretation, such as France and Italy, however in Poland it does not override the national constitution, which it does in Germany. The exact areas where the member states have given legislative competence to the EU are as follows. Every area not mentioned remains with member states.
CompetencesIn EU terminology, the term 'competence' means 'authority or responsibility to act'. The table below shows which aspects of governance are exclusively for collective action and which are shared to a greater or lesser extent. If an aspect is not listed in the table below, then it remains the exclusive competence of the member state. Perhaps the best known example is taxation, which remains a matter of national sovereignty.
Conditional mutual supportAs a result of the European sovereign debt crisis, some eurozone states were given a bailout from their fellow members via the European Financial Stability Facility and European Financial Stability Mechanism, but this came with conditions. As a result of the Greek government-debt crisis, Greece accepted a large austerity plan including privatisations and a sell off of state assets in exchange for their bailout. To ensure that Greece complied with the conditions set by the European troika, a 'large-scale technical assistance' from the European Commission and other member states was deployed to Greek government ministries. Some, including the President of the Euro Group Jean-Claude Juncker, stated that "the sovereignty of Greece will be massively limited." The situation of the bailed out countries has been described as being a ward or protectorate of the EU with some such as the Netherlands calling for a formalisation of the situation.
Multi-speed integrationEU integration is not always symmetrical, with some states proceeding with integration ahead of hold-outs. This comes in two forms; a faster integrated core where some states forge ahead with a new project, and opt-outs where a few states are excused from normal integration. The notion of multi-speed integration is anathema to some, including President Juncker, who see it as divisive to the European project and others, such as the less-integrated states, who feel they would be left behind. It is however supported by others, such as President Macron, to move forward in integration faster.
Enhanced cooperationThere are several different forms closer integration both within and outside the EU's normal framework. The main mechanism is enhanced cooperation where nine or more states can use EU structures progress in a field that not all states are willing to partake in. One example of this is the European Public Prosecutor. A similar mechanism is Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence, where the majority of EU states work in a flexible manner on defence cooperation. Other projects, such as the European Fiscal Compact, operate between EU members but as a separate intergovernmental treaty outside of the official EU structures.
Opt-outsA number of states are less integrated into the EU than others. In most cases this is because those states have gained an opt-out from a certain policy area. The most notable is the opt-out from the Economic and Monetary Union, the adoption of the euro as sole legal currency. Most states outside the Eurozone are obliged to adopt the euro when they are ready, but Denmark has obtained the right to retain their own independent currency.
Ireland does not participate in the Schengen Agreement. Denmark has an opt out from the Common Security and Defence Policy; Denmark and Ireland have an opt-out on police and justice matters and Poland has an opt out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Political systemsEntry to the EU is limited to liberal democracies and Freedom House ranks all EU states as being totally free electoral democracies. All but 4 are ranked at the top 1.0 rating. However, the exact political system of a state is not limited, with each state having its own system based on its historical evolution.
More than half of member states—15 out of 27—are parliamentary republics, while six states are constitutional monarchies, meaning they have a monarch although political powers are exercised by elected politicians. Most republics and all the monarchies operate a parliamentary system whereby the head of state has a largely ceremonial role with reserve powers. That means most power is in the hands of what is called in most of those countries the prime minister, who is accountable to the national parliament. Of the remaining republics, five operate a semi-presidential system, where competencies are shared between the president and prime minister, while one republic operates a presidential system, where the president is head of state and government.
Parliamentary structure in member states varies: there are 15 unicameral national parliaments and 12 bicameral parliaments. The prime minister and government are usually directly accountable to the directly elected lower house and require its support to stay in office—the exceptions being Cyprus and France with their presidential systems. Upper houses are composed differently in different member states: it can be directly elected like the Polish senate; indirectly elected, for example, by regional legislatures like the Federal Council of Austria; or unelected, but representing certain interest groups like the National Council of Slovenia. All elections in member states use some form of proportional representation. The most common type of proportional representation is the party-list system.
There are also differences in the level of self-governance for the sub-regions of a member state. Most states, especially the smaller ones, are unitary states; meaning all major political power is concentrated at the national level. 9 states allocate power to more local levels of government. Austria, Belgium and Germany are full federations, meaning their regions have constitutional autonomies. Denmark, Finland, France and the Netherlands are federacies, meaning some regions have autonomy but most do not. Spain and Italy have system of devolution where regions have autonomy, but the national government retains the right to revoke it. \
States such as France have a number of overseas territories, retained from their former empires.
Related statesThere are a number of countries with strong links with the EU, similar to elements of membership. Following Norway's decision not to join the EU, it remained one of the members of the European Economic Area via the European Free Trade Association, which also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Switzerland rejected membership of the EEA. 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. The democratic repercussions of this have been described as "fax democracy".
A different example is Bosnia and Herzegovina, 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 states. Indeed, the state's flag resembles the EU's flag according to some observers.
In the same manner as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo 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. Like Bosnia, Kosovo has been termed an "EU protectorate".
However, there is also the largely defunct term of associate member. It has occasionally been applied to states that have signed an association agreement with the EU. Associate membership is not a formal classification and does not entitle the state to any of the representation of free movement rights that full membership allows. The term is almost unheard of in the modern context and was primarily used in the earlier days of the EU with countries such as Greece and Turkey. Turkey's association agreement was the 1963 Ankara Agreement, implying that Turkey became an associate member that year. Present association agreements include the Stabilisation and Association Agreements with the western Balkans; these states are no longer termed "associate members".
The United Kingdom's future relationship and agreements with the rest of the European Union is yet to be officially decided, with a current deadline of 31 December 2020, the date for new post Brexit relations to be reached. For the rest of 2020, the United Kingdom will remain in the EU Customs Union and single market, however the British government have insisted that they do not wish to remain in either after 2020, and hope for a more distant future relationship.