“The European Union (EU) has long viewed the enlargement process as an extraordinary opportunity to promote political stability and economic prosperity in Europe. Since 2004, EU membership has grown from 15 to 27 countries, bringing in most states of Central and Eastern Europe and fulfilling an historic pledge to further the integration of the continent by peaceful means. Analysts contend that the carefully managed process of enlargement is one of the EUs most powerful policy tools, and that, over the years, it has helped transform many European states into functioning democracies and more affluent countries. The EU maintains that the enlargement door remains open to any European country that fulfills the EUs political and economic criteria for membership. At the same time, EU enlargement is also very much a political process; most all significant steps on the long path to accession require the unanimous agreement of the existing 27 member states. As such, a prospective EU candidates relationship or conflicts with individual member states may also influence a countrys EU accession prospects and timeline.”
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