Copenhagen Criteria Definition

Cite this article as:"Copenhagen Criteria Definition," in The Business Professor, updated March 18, 2019, last accessed November 26, 2020,


Copenhagen Criteria Definition

The Copenhagen Criteria refers to the conditions that candidate countries must meet before they can be part of the European Union. The criteria had been established in 1993 by the Copenhagen European Council, and later strengthened in 1995 by the Madrid European Council. Copenhagen Criteria also refer to the rules defined by the European Council in 1993 in Denmark, Copenhagen, which determines whether a country is qualified to join the European Union.

A Little More on What is the Copenhagen Criteria

In order to become a member of the EU, the three criteria that must be achieved are:

  •         Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities
  •         The existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the union
  •         The ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic & monetary union

Based on the laid out criteria, EU membership requires candidates to attain stability of democratic institutions, human rights, rule of law, protection of minorities, existence of functioning market economy, and having the capacity to cope with market forces and competitive pressure within the Union. Candidate countries are expected to take on membership obligations including compliance with economic, monetary, and political union.

Most of the Copenhagen criteria were classified in the last decade through legislation and decisions of the European Commission, European Council, and the European Parliament. However, a common issue with the criteria is the slight conflicting interpretations among the member states.

Criteria for Membership

The European community always monitors the progress of candidate states that have applied for the EU accession. Key instruments of pre-accession were implemented by the Agenda 2000 which offers assistance to states that are in the process of adhering to the criteria of accession. Through the Regular Reports, the European Commission problems of key importance that should be considered by every country interested in the accession process.

Some of the pre-cession programs that existed in 2000 included ISPA, PHARE and SAPARD. PHARE refers to a program which finances institution building measures and investment fields that are not considered by SAPARD and ISPA programs. It is the role ISPA to finance transportation and environmental infrastructure projects. SAPARD funds rural development and agriculture.

Three documents are used to define the European Union membership criteria. These include:

  •         Article 49 of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty
  •         The 1993 declaration the European Council in Copenhagen (includes political, legislative, and economic policies)
  •         Framework for negotiations with specific conditions for every candidate country

When the Copenhagen Criteria was passed in 1993, the EU did not set up any mechanism that ensures every member state was to comply with the criteria. However, currently there are arrangements that have been put in place to ensure adherence with the criteria. This had followed the early 2000 sanction imposed against the government of Wolfgang Schüssel by 14 member states. The arrangements were later effected in 2003 February under the Treaty of Nice.


In 1987, Morocco made an application to become part of the EU. However, the application was not successful owing to the fact that Morocco was not a European country and as such could not join the group. The geographic criterion of membership could later be enshrined one the EU introduced the Copenhagen criteria.

Non-European countries are still able to enjoy the integration with EU amidst the fact that they are not considered eligible members. Member states are currently in discussions to conclude association agreements with non-European states. Furthermore, key frameworks to enhance integration with third countries are emerging which include the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The policy will replace the Barcelona process that initially offered framework for the association of the EU with North Africa and Western Asia.

The ENP is not the same as the Stabilization and Association Process adopted by the EU Area or the Western Balkans. Russia is not bound by ENP scope since it is subject to a different framework. The ENP can be considered a drawing up of the foreseeable future of the Mediterranean Sea.

References for Copenhagen Criteria

Academic Research on Copenhagen Criteria

  • Normative power Europe: a contradiction in terms?, Manners, I. (2002). JCMS: Journal of common market studies, 40(2), 235-258. This paper discusses the modern perception of Europe as a ‘Normative Power.’ Manners (2002) explores how Hedley Bull, the writer of the Journal of Common Market Studies, critiqued the European Community as a user of ‘civilian power’ when it comes to international affairs. The author then asserts that, unlike the traditional belief, the EU has adopted a ‘normative power’ which he uses to examine the case study of its international pursuit in regard to death penalty abolition.
  • How closely does the European Union’s membership conditionality reflect the Copenhagen criteria? Insights from Turkey, Saatçioğlu, B. (2009). Turkish Studies, 10(4), 559-576. Using data of Turkey political atmosphere, this article analyses how close the membership conditionality of European Union reflects the Copenhagen criteria. According to the author, this study focuses on the domestic impacts of conditionality than on the conditionality itself. The author also claims that researchers and experts rarely investigate whether the EU consistently seeks the Copenhagen criteria before offering any membership. Thus, this study analyzes the concept of conditionality in regard to Turkey, arguing that true conditionality should exclusively link the demands of the EU with formal membership criteria to offer reward in the accession process. The study concludes that the anticipated cost of absorbing Turkey by the EU resulted in the unwillingness of Turkey to deploy proper formal conditionality.
  • Europeanization in Turkey: trigger or anchor for reform?, Tocci, N. (2005). South European Society and Politics, 10(1), 73-83. This article analyses whether Turkey Europeanization was an anchor or trigger for a reform. According to Tocci (2005), Turkish governments have been able to pursue unprecedented domestic political reform process since 2001. Considering the relationship between political reforms and relations with the EU, the change process was associated Europeanization. As such, this article links the reform process of Turkey and its succession process towards EU. Some of the questions that the author raises include: Did the process of accession trigger the reforms as a key driving force towards change? OR has domestic change been spearheaded by domestic actors who have been strengthened by the external EU anchor? The author assumes that the accession process has largely been driven by endogenous factors that are intricately linked to Turkey’s accession launching process.
  • The importance of values in predicting Turkish youth’s opinions about the European Union in light of the Copenhagen Political Criteria, Kuşdil, M. E., & Şimşek, S. (2008). International Journal of Psychology, 43(6), 988-996. This journal discusses the significance of values in predicting the opinion of Turkish youths regarding the EU in regard to Copenhagen criteria. The author refers to the rising unity of state in the human history as ‘European identity.’ The author further discusses the effects of Copenhagen criteria on Turkey; based on the analysis, Turkey has been asked to meet the expectations of the Copenhagen criteria which involve reforming larger part of infrastructure and superstructure of the country. The authors have also used Schwartz’s model of value to test the Turkish people’s opinion on the significance of Copenhagen Criteria. Five factors were yielded from the analysis of response provided by 368 Turkish university students. These include reduction of military influence in civil life, European Union and the existing skepticism towards Europe, human rights and liberties improvement, minority rights improvement, and lack of transparency in public institutions.
  • The power of the Copenhagen criteria, Marktler, T. (2006). Croatian yearbook of European law & policy, 2(2.), 343-363. This article describes the role of Copenhagen criteria. Marktler (2006) examines different aspect of Copenhagen criteria which are far from self-explanatory. Several historical facts have been used to analyze the criteria including the decisive role in the process of integration. Most part of the literature provides an overview of the relations existing between Croatia and the European Union.
  • The use of cultural autonomy to prevent conflict and meet the Copenhagen criteria: the case of Romania, Christopher Decker, D. (2007). Ethnopolitics, 6(3), 437-450. This paper discusses the recent draft law of the national minority’s status of Romania. In particular, the paper attempts to adopt a form of cultural autonomy using the Estonian model. The author discusses the history of the Romanian national minority as well as the rise of the Hungarian Democratic Union and the response of nationalists by successive governments. The article also examines the cultural autonomy section of the draft law and its similarities to the Estonian model. Thus, the author concludes that the draft law can support the Romania meeting the Copenhagen criteria and prevent potential conflict in the country.
  • The Copenhagen Criteria: Are They Helping or Hurting the European Union?, Rezler, P. (2011). Touro International Law Review, 14(2), 390-411.  This article investigates whether Copenhagen criteria is helping or hurting the European Union. It first discusses the membership of the European Union, highlighting the population, cultural, economic, and religious background of the region. It then discusses how the criteria of Copenhagen were formed including the three criteria that have been used by the EU in accessing several states. The author then uses Poland as an example to explore the efficacy of Copenhagen criteria including the Succession Treaty of the region. Key reasons why the criteria are believed to be ineffective have also been discussed as well as highlights of potential candidates and recommendations to make Copenhagen Criteria effective.
  • The Copenhagen Accord for limiting global warming: Criteria, constraints, and available avenues, Ramanathan, V., & Xu, Y. (2010). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201002293. This paper discusses the constraints and available avenues of Copenhagen criteria in accordance with the limiting global warming. The author reveals that both developed and developing nations have agreed that global overall temperature increases should be reduced to 2°C because of the stipulated guidelines in the Copenhagen Accord. A critical criterion the author considers is that the radiant energy added by anthropogenic activities should range between 1.7-4 watts per square meter.
  • Trade integration and the EU economic membership criteria, Nilsson, L. (2000). European Journal of Political Economy, 16(4), 807-827. This article discusses whether the EU’s economic membership for Cyprus and the Central and Eastern YO fulfilled. The author examines the potential and actual levels existing trade between the EU and the countries and the cabinet countries. The findings indicate that the Candidate countries would not face difficulties
  • Relevance of Copenhagen Criteria in Actual Accession: Principles, Methods and Shortcomings of EU Pre-accession Evaluation, Veebel, V. (2011). Studies of Transition States and Societies, 3(3). This article discusses the relevance of Copenhagen criteria in a real accession process. The author provides information the methods, principles and challenges of EU pre-accession evaluation. The author’s objective was to test and analyze whether the EU adheres to the objective and class criteria as highlighted in is progress report. To address the research question, the paper explores the logic, methods, and motivations of the European Commission, and gains curiosity over the 2 test areas including governance, level of corruption, efficiency of liberties and anticorruption, and economic and freedoms.
  • EU conditionality and minority rights: translating the Copenhagen criterion into policy, Sasse, G. (2005). This article describes the role of Copenhagen criteria on European Union’s external relations with other countries and how the minorities and human part has pushed for the EU’s internal objectives, values and policies. The article analyzes the conditionality of EU and how the region translated the criteria into an institutional process. Secondly, the author locates the minority criterion of the EU in the political context of 3 countries: Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania with the aim of establishing the balance between internal and external policy change incentives and EU conditionality effectiveness. The study concludes that international actors of Copenhagen criteria affected the nature and timing of specific pieces of the legislation.

Was this article helpful?