European Council took one of the most momentous steps in the history of European integration. By inviting 12 more countries to join it, the European Union was not simply increasing its geographical size and population; it was putting an end to the division which had split our continent in two since 1945. European countries which, for decades, had not enjoyed democratic freedom were finally able to rejoin the family of democratic European nations. Thus the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia became EU members in 2004, together with the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta. Bulgaria and Romania followed in 2007. Croatia joined the process by applying for membership in 2003 and eventually joining in 2013. All are now partners in the momentous project conceived by the EU’s founding fathers.(B) NEGOTIATIONS UNDER WAYTurkey, a member of NATO with a long-standing association agreement with the EU, applied for European Union membership in 1987. Given Turkey’s geographical location and political history, the EU hesitated for a long time before accepting its application. However, in October 2005, accession negotiations finally began. Some EU countries have expressed doubts as to whether Turkey will or should become a member of the European Union. They propose an alternative arrangement — a ‘privileged partnership’.The western Balkan countries, most of which were once part of Yugoslavia, are also turning to the European Union to speed up their economic reconstruction, improve their mutual relations (long scarred by ethnic and religious wars) and consolidate their democratic institutions. The EU has given ‘candidate country’ status to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Potential candidates are Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 and could also become a candidate country, once the ongoing negotiations on its future have been concluded.Iceland, hit hard by the financial crisis in 2008, applied for EU membership in 2009. Accession negotiations were put on hold in 2013 at the request of the county itself.II. Membership conditions(A) LEGAL REQUIREMENTSEuropean integration has always been a political and economic process, open to all European countries that are prepared to sign up to the Treaties and take on board the full body of EU law. According to the Lisbon Treaty (Article 49), any European state may apply to become a member of the European Union provided it respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.3. Enlarging the EU and getting on with the neighboursXThe European Union is open to any European country that fulfils the democratic, political and economic criteria for membership.