What are the qualifications for joining EU? Because it is hard to say countries such as Turkey (capital city not in Europe) and Cyprus are in the European category. In fact, some of the EU members are suspiciously qualified:

  • Cyprus: entirely located in Asia.
  • Estado Novo era Portugal: as one of the founding members of the European Community, majority of the territory was in Africa until the end of the Portuguese Colonial War.
  • Denmark: vast majority of the territory is not in Europe

And if China meets all of the category (i.e. is a democracy, recognizes same-sex marriages, is a market economy, has judiciary independency, etc), can China join EU, too?

  • 5
    Conditions for joining an organization: 1. People in charge want you to join. 2. If necessary, the very same people in charge adapt the rules, so the rules allow you to join.
    – Peter
    Apr 22, 2017 at 20:14
  • 5
    "People in charge" when it comes to joining an organization, are the people in charge of the organization, not those outside of the organization.
    – Peter
    Apr 22, 2017 at 20:59
  • 8
    Islands are not located on continents, so Cyprus is located on neither Europe nor Asia, the same applies to Great Britain, Ireland, and significant territories of other EU members. Istambul however is located between Europe and Asia. Groenland is mostly inhabited and inhabitable so it's not fair to say "vast majority of Denmark is in Europe". However Copenhagen is on an Island, therefore not located on Europe.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 22, 2017 at 21:09
  • 5
    Portugal was no founding member (Treaties of Rome 1957/EEC > BeNeLux/De/Fr/It) but entered the then pre-EU 1986. All remaining colonies got independent in 1975. Cyprus belongs to Asia geographically but not culturally/politically.
    – klanomath
    Apr 23, 2017 at 1:27
  • 3
    Geography aside, China has the death penalty which would prevent it from joining the EU
    – James
    Apr 23, 2017 at 1:59

1 Answer 1


The Treaty on European Union (TEU) (a.k.a Treaty of Maastricht a.k.a. Treaty of Lisbon) states that:

Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union.

Without further clarification on what defines a "European State".

A legal briefing clarified that "the term 'European State' need not be interpreted in a strictly geographical sense" (emphasis mine):

The sole material condition laid down by Article O of the TEU is that the applicant must be a 'European State'. There is no unequivocal interpretation of that criterion. It can be read equally well in geographical, cultural or political terms.

In 1987 an application to become a Member of the Communities was received from Morocco. The application was rejected by the Council on the grounds that Morocco was not a European State. In the case of Turkey, Article 28 of the Association Agreement signed in 1963 incudes the option of Turkey's eventually acceding to the Communities. Turkey in fact lodged an application to accede on 14 April 1987. Historically, Turkey has formed part of the so-called 'European concert'. Although part of Turkey's territory is located geographically in Asia, Parliament, the Council and the Commission have confirmed Turkey's eligibility. This example shows that the term 'European State' need not be interpreted in a strictly geographical sense. It is at all events a criterion subject to political assessment.

Overseas territories are also mentioned in the TEU:

The Member States agree to associate with the Union the non-European countries and territories which have special relations with Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. These countries and territories (hereinafter called the ‘countries and territories’) are listed in Annex II.

So it's unlikely that China could join the European Union even if it meets all the requirements since Morocco's application was denied on account of not being in Europe.

That being said, it's not unthinkable for the European Parliament to allow countries outside of Europe to apply at some point in the future, although China specifically is not a very likely country to join due to lack of historical and cultural ties. Israel is sometimes named as a country that could – perhaps – one day apply for EU membership.

  • Who controls amendment or interpretation of that treaty?
    – user9389
    Apr 23, 2017 at 4:16
  • 3
    Perhaps the most interesting ambiguous case is Armenia. 100% in Asia, but it is Christian, in the Council of Europe, bordered by the geographically part-European states of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
    – Colin
    Apr 23, 2017 at 5:49
  • The European Parliament would have to consent to any application so the beginning of the last paragraph is not technically wrong but it's odd to mention it while ignoring the role of the Council and Commission in the process, especially since any enlargement would ultimately have to be approved by the member states (cf. Macedonia).
    – Relaxed
    Aug 13, 2017 at 19:33

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