This question is motivated by the interesting answers given in a similar question on Russia. Let's imagine the USA leaders would want to join the European Union, would they be eligible?

There are two sub-questions:

  1. Is it necessary that they are part of the European continent? In 1987, Morocco applied to join, but was rejected. Is there a definite ruling on eligible countries?

  2. Would the USA fulfil the very strict standards by the European Union, both economical and political, including inflation rate, budget deficit, democracy (as the EU understands it), human and minority rights, trade, industrial and ecological standards?

The goal of this question is to find potential fundamental differences between the EU and the USA.

  • 4
    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a real answer which adheres to our quality standards.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 9:24

2 Answers 2


The first requirement for joining the EU is wanting to join. A far shot for the USA, but we assume this hypothesis in the question.

European Union has defined its Conditions for Membership in 1993. They are often referred to as the Copenhagen criteria.

Countries wishing to join need to have:

  • stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;

  • a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;

  • the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

The EU also needs to be able to integrate new members.

  • I would think that the political criteria could be met quite easily. Rule of law and human rights are well established in the USA. There would be some discussion, and possibly adaptation needed, about the situation of Native Americans, about the political rights for American citizens living in Puerto Rico, Guam and other territories that are arguably excluded from Presidential and Congress elections, about the death penalty or about racial policies (Europe doesn't recognize races and might debate if it can admit a country where Affirmative Action is a thing). But overall, I don't think these are obstacles that good faith on both sides wouldn't overcome.

  • The economical criteria is another story: given the US important public debt, it would need to engage into serious efforts to reduce its public deficit and improve its trade balance to meet European criteria (even if they are less strict for becoming a member than for joining the Eurozone). Subsidies for homeland agriculture and industries would have to be abandoned. It would require difficult, long-term and unpopular economic reforms.

  • About the geographic criteria:

Article 49 (formerly Article O) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) or Maastricht Treaty states that any European country that respects the principles of the EU may apply to join. Countries' classification as European is "subject to political assessment" by the Commission and more importantly—the European Council.

Basically, it is up to EU to decide what country is "European" or not. The answer has been "no" for Morocco, "yes" for Cyprus and Malta, and is still subject of heated debates for Turkey. Because there is no precise definition of the borders of Europe, I would think that ultimately it would be a political decision and if Europeans were motivated to include the USA, they would make a case to allow them to join (based on history or values or whatnot). Same as they would allow Iceland to join without much geographical nitnitting. Anyway, territories likes the Azores or French Guyana are already part of the Union (considered as European Outermost Regions) while Greenland, Bermuda, Falkland Islands or New Caledonia are Overseas Countries and Territories of the Union.

  • 26
    "abyssal public debt": wikipedia's roughly two year old list shows US debt as a percentage of GDP (82.3) roughly in line with EU members (UK - 87.0, FR - 98.5, DE - 64.1, EU overall - 86.8). While US debt has worsened since then (105%), it is still at the "bad" end of EU members wrt the 60% target, not orders of magnitude off. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:10
  • 3
    @Taladris : My point was that it is already possible to live in the European Union but not in geographical Europe. Sure, right now it is only possible if a territory is part of a state that is mostly on European ground, so your argument is also valid. (btw, Paris is a departement of its own, and Île-de-France is a region).
    – Evargalo
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:53
  • 1
    I don't think Greenland is part of the EU (though part of the Kingdom of Denmark). "In 1985, Greenland left the European Economic Community (EEC)" and "Greenland, an autonomous country within Denmark, left the Communities in 1985". Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 17:40
  • 2
    @MichaelW. in reality it's the opposite: geography is not even considered when discussing reasons that slow down the process
    – Denis
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 0:28
  • 3
    "human rights are well established in the USA" I wouldn't be so quick with this one. Ireland regularly refuses extradition to the US because it regards the conditions to often be inhuman. Also the US has a death penalty, I believe this is also not allowed.
    – user21607
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 10:04

The political convergence is hardest, in my opinion.

Acceptance of supranationalism

The US does not have a good track record of signing up to international agreements that limit its power or sovereignty. This ranges from the "Hague Invasion Act" protecting US service members who commit war crimes to the Convention on Rights of the Child. EU membership is a much bigger restriction; member states must accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ and a very large body of standardised law called the acquis communitaire. This is one of the arguments currently being made by pro-Brexit politicians who object to the ECJ.

Acquiescence of constitutional court

Postwar Germany has a strong limited-government constitution and an important constitutional court. This came into conflict with the supremacy of EU law, and the court had to rule that it would no longer intervene in ECJ rulings. The US Supreme Court would probably have to make a similar ruling that it was no longer the highest court for US law.

Common agricultural and fishing policy

Lots of areas of US law would be difficult to integrate, but this should probably be highlighted: US subsidy levels and especially animal welfare standards are very different. Changing this would be politically difficult, but then so would the tens of thousands of other administrative changes required.

  • 20
    " The US Supreme Court would probably have to make a similar ruling that it was no longer the highest court for US law." That might require a constitutional amendment, which would make this arrangement even more vanishingly unlikely. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 18:25
  • 3
    @eyeballfrog I think you're right. From Article 3: "The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases ... between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects."
    – gormadoc
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:31
  • You are looking at this as a one way street politically. Germany, and to a lesser extent France, has used the EU to achieve what they couldn't in WW2. They have the most to lose if the US were to enter Europe.
    – user9790
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 12:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .