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Udenrigsministerens tale ved 25-året for Københavnskriterierne, den 7. maj 2018 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to today’s conference on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Copenhagen Criteria.

I am honored to have several distinguished guests present today who actually took part in the formulation of the Criteria back in 1993.

I would argue that the Copenhagen criteria are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago. I would also argue that they are as relevant to Member States of the European Union as they are to candidate countries seeking membership of the European Union.

So we are not only here to celebrate an anniversary. And to remind ourselves of historical deeds. We are also here to underline the continued importance of the Copenhagen criteria in 2018.


Let’s briefly remind ourselves what the Copenhagen criteria are about.

Firstly, they are about ensuring stable institutions, which guarantee democracy, rule-of-law, human rights and the protection of minorities. That - I think – is a constant task for all of us. Not just for candidate countries.

Secondly, the criteria are about ensuring functioning market economies, which are able to handle competition and market forces. That is also a constant task for all of us.

Thirdly, the criteria are about taking on the obligations of membership. That means being able – and willing - to effectively implement our common rules, standards and policies. That too is relevant for all of us - candidate countries as well as Members of the European Union.

Finally, there is a criterion for accession, which is often forgotten. Even if – in my mind – it is as relevant today as ever before. It is about the capacity of the European Union to absorb new members.

Just as we need to ensure that candidate countries, which want to become members of the EU, are ready to take on the obligations of membership – we also need to make sure that the European Union is ready to welcome new members.

Otherwise, we risk that the European Union breaks apart. It is important to keep that criterion in mind too when we discuss future enlargements.


The formulation of the Copenhagen Criteria was a key priority for the Danish EU Presidency 25 years ago. The end of the Cold War demanded strategic and courageous decisions. We needed to think big - about the future of our continent.

We decided to offer membership of the EU to our neighbors in Eastern and Central Europe. In order to help and develop their emerging democracies. And in order to assist the transition towards functioning market economies. In their interest. And in ours.

The formulation of the Copenhagen criteria was the beginning of a process towards the unification of Europe.

Nine years later – during the Danish Presidency of the EU in 2002 we achieved just that. We concluded the accession negotiations with ten new member states. 

In the course of those nine years, the criteria served as a checklist for the applicant countries. It provided them with a clear sense of direction. And a lot of very hard work.

The candidate countries went through tremendous democratic and economic reforms in a short period of time. Take our three Baltic neighbors. Take Slovakia - or Slovenia. Their reforms required immense efforts. It wasn’t easy – but it worked.

The enlargement was not just a reward for neighboring countries who did well. It was also a way forward for the “old” member states in the EU. A way to ensure the stability and prosperity of our continent and the future of the European Union.

Enlargement was not without problems. But if we look back and imagine what Europe would have looked like today, if we had not dared embark on the process of enlargement 25 years ago, it is clear to me that we made the right decision.


In a world with constant changes and challenges to established norms and rules, the Copenhagen Criteria are as important as ever.

In recent years we have witnessed developments – in Member States – that challenge our basic values. Or at least calls for concern. It is a delicate and difficult issue to deal with.

I’m not a fan of meddling in other countries’ political affairs. But I am a big fan of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. And I think that we must be able to have frank discussions among friends and neighbors within the EU on these issues. And we must find solutions.


The continued importance of the Copenhagen Criteria is also clear when we look at the countries that strive for membership of the EU today – the countries of the Western Balkans…..and Turkey.

As for Turkey it is my point of view that accession negotiations no longer make sense and should be brought to an end. Turkey has been moving in the wrong direction for too long. And the European Union clearly would not have the capacity to “absorb” Turkey. We should not be naive about it.

As for the countries of the Western Balkans, some are closer than others. But most of them still have a long way to go. They need to ensure stable institutions, which guarantee democracy, rule-of-law, human rights and the protection of minorities. And they need to become ready to take on the obligations of membership: To adopt, effectively implement and enforce our common rules, standards and policies. 

If we do not insist on the strict application of the Copenhagen criteria, the applicant countries will not succeed in their efforts to transform. If we do not insist - we risk importing instability into the European Union as a consequence of our efforts to export stability to our neighborhood.

At a time of multiple challenges to the European Union – illegal migration, Brexit and a more unpredictable global environment – we cannot afford to put the cohesion of the European Union at risk. We cannot afford to take the Copenhagen criteria - and the benchmarks we define – lightly.


On that note I would like to open today’s conference. I hope that we will have an interesting debate about the Copenhagen criteria – a political debate about the world of today and the challenges we face – and about why – after 25 years the criteria are still relevant.

Thank you.