Friday, February 7, 2020

Map: Which Countries were in the European Union in 2020, Which Weren't, and Which Wanted to Join?

There are newer versions of this article and map available. You can always find the latest version at this link: Which Countries are in the European Union?

The UK has finally officially left the European Union (EU), almost four years after its famous "Brexit" vote, and taken the British territory of Gibraltar out with it. Here's our updated map and list of which countries are in the EU, which ones are trying to join, and which European countries are in neither group.

Map of the European Union, including all member countries, official candidate countries, and potential candidate countries, as of February 2020, updated for Brexit (colorblind accessible). Also file under: Map of European Union Member Countries.
The European Union after the January 2020 departure of the UK and Gibraltar (pre-Brexit version here).
Map by Evan Centanni, from blank map by Ssolbergj. License: CC BY-SA

What is the European Union?

Europe's continental union is probably most famous to outsiders for its euro currency and Schengen free travel area. But it's actually much more than that. After all, the UK ("Britain"), which left the EU in 2020, was never part of the Schengen Area or euro currency zone to begin with.

What unites the countries of the European Union is a set of laws that all members are required to share. Mostly these are laws about things like the economy, trade, natural resources, and immigration (a major sticking point in Britain). Some countries or territories have exemptions from certain laws, but overall, being an EU member means agreeing to follow a set of rules set out by the collaborative union government in Brussels.

The idea is that Europe can do better economically, and better guarantee rights and standards of living, if all the countries work together as one. Needless to say, not everyone in Europe agrees this is a good thing (or that it works), and that's how Britain ended up leaving. But at the same time, many other countries are still scrambling to join.

Which Countries are in the European Union? (Full List of EU Members)

The European Union currently has 27 member countries, after the departure of the UK on January 31, 2020. The most recent country to join was Croatia in 2013.

List of EU Member Countries
 Denmark (except the Faroe Islands and Greenland)
 France (except some overseas regions and territories)
 Netherlands (except Caribbean islands)

*The Republic of Cyprus holds EU membership on behalf of both southern and northern Cyprus, though the north is controlled by the unrecognized breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where EU law is considered to be "suspended" until the dispute can be resolved. Two British military bases on Cyprus's southern coast, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, are considered territories of the UK and are not part of the EU. Incidentally, it's arguable whether the island of Cyprus is even located in Europe to begin with, but it was allowed in on the basis of its shared cultural history (78% of the population is ethnically Greek).

Which Countries Used to be in the EU?

Originally, there was debate over whether it was even legal for a country to leave the EU, or whether the membership treaties were permanent. But the rules were clarified in 2009, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ("UK" or "Britain" for short) eventually headed for the exit, voting in June 2016 to leave the union and formally ceasing to be a member at in the end of January 2020. So far, the UK is the only country ever to leave the EU.

List of Former EU Member Countries

 United Kingdom (UK)

Which Countries are in Line to Join the EU?

European Union membership is open any "European" country (a fuzzily-defined concept) that can convince existing members it will meet the standards of EU membership. These include being free and democratic, respecting human rights, and having a "functioning market economy". New members also have to adopt all the EU's laws before joining, prepare to efficiently implement new EU laws made after joining, and have the "capacity to cope" with basically merging their economies with those of all the other member countries. Normally, they're also required to plan on eventually adopting the euro as their currency.

List of Official EU Candidate Countries
Joining the EU requires years of negotiation with the existing member countries, and the EU has a list of official candidate countries that are working on it now.

 North Macedonia

Turkey applied all the way back in 1987, but is still a long way from getting approval from the existing EU members. The other candidate countries are mostly at early stages of membership negotiations, or haven't even formally started yet. Serbia and Montenegro will probably be the next to join, but aren't expected to any earlier than 2025.

List of Potential EU Candidate Countries
The EU also has an official designation for "potential candidates" that haven't been fully invited yet:

 Bosnia and Herzegovina

The disputed Republic of Kosovo, claimed by Serbia and only recognized by a little over half of the world's countries, is generally acknowledged as a country by the EU, which is why it was allowed to become a "potential candidate".

What Other European Countries Aren't in the EU?

So which countries are left that aren't in the European Union and aren't even applying for membership? There are actually quite a few. Some might hope to apply further in the future, while others have decided not to apply at all. 

List of European Countries That Aren't EU Members, Candidates, or Potential Candidates
 San Marino
 Vatican City 

*Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland have all applied for EU membership in the past, but later suspended or withdrawn their applications

**Russia is located partially in Europe and partially in Asia, but its historical center and the majority of its population are on the European side

List of Arguably European Countries That Aren't EU Members, Candidates, or Potential Candidates
There are some cases where it's not clear if a country is in Europe or not. The countries of the Transcaucasia region are sometimes considered culturally European, and sit right along the most commonly-used line between the European and Asian continents (following the divide of the Caucasus Mountains). Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is rarely treated as European, but part of it does lie on the European side of that line, which follows part of the Ural River.

 Armenia (physically on Asian side, but within Transcaucasia)
 Azerbaijan (in Transcaucasia, mostly in Asia with small parts in Europe)
 Georgia (in Transcaucasia, mostly in Asia with small parts in Europe)
 Kazakhstan (mostly in Asia, with a small part in Europe)

These lists still leave out several unrecognized or partially-recognized breakaway states that the European Union doesn't consider to be countries at all: Northern Cyprus, Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, the Donetsk People's Republic, and the Lugansk People's Republic.

Who Will Join or Leave Next?

The future is impossible to predict, but you can stay up to date on European Union membership by checking back frequently with Political Geography Now, or by signing up for email updates from the box on the right-hand side of this page. You can also view all European Union articles, or follow PolGeoNow on Twitter for even more news and facts!

Which Countries Use the Euro Currency? (Map of the Eurozone)
Map of the Schengen Area, Europe's Border-free Travel Zone
9 Geography Facts You Should Know About Brexit and Britain's EU Membership 
Why Brexit Matters: 5 Things Expected to Change When the UK Leaves the EU
Britain Leaves the European Union: What Has Actually Changed?
What were they doing all that time? A concise timeline of the Brexit

Article by Evan Centanni. Country flags and associated HTML code from Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA).