How do countries join the EU?
To join the EU, countries must have stable institutions that guarantee human rights, democracy, the rule of law, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with market forces and competition. These basic standards are often described as "the Copenhagen Political Criteria", having been agreed at the Copenhagen European Council in 1993. Countries must also be able to transpose, implement and enforce the EU's existing volume of law (known as the 'acquis communautaire' and divided in to 31 thematic chapters e.g. environment, telecommunications) in full on accession.
Negotiations with the first ten countries (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) were completed at the Copenhagen European Council in December 2002. Bulgaria and Romania are still in negotiation and have respectively closed 25 and 19 of the 31.
Turkey has not yet started negotiations. The Copenhagen European Council agreed that the EU will open negotiations with Turkey 'without delay' if the European Council in December 2004, on the basis of a report and a recommendation from the Commission, decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria.