Candidate country status is conferred to "potential candidate countries" (PCC) by the European Council on the basis of an opinion from the European Commission, drawn up following an application for membership by the country concerned. However, candidate country status does not give a right to join the Union automatically. The Commission scrutinizes the application in the light of the accession criteria (Copenhagen criteria), while the accession process starts with the European Council decision to open accession negotiations. Depending on their circumstances, candidate countries may be required to institute a reform process in order to bring their legislation in line with the Community acquis and to strengthen their infrastructure and administration if necessary. The accession process is based on the pre-accession strategy, which provides instruments such as financial aid (e.g. in the form of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance IPA for the Western Balkan countries). Accession depends on the progress made by the candidate countries, which is regularly assessed and monitored by the Commission. Applicant countries for European Union membership are granted "candidate country status" from the day their application is officially accepted by the European Council.
Candidate Countries are: