EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation established in 1974 by ten founding countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Member states make a contribution to EMBL’s programmes, receive access to all services and programmes and are responsible for all important decisions about the organisation and its activities taken in the EMBL Council. Member states are represented in the EMBL Council by up to two delegates.

Subsequently, EMBL was joined by Finland (1984), Greece (1984), Norway (1985), Spain (1986), Belgium (1990), Portugal (1998), Ireland (2003), Iceland (2005), Croatia (2006), Luxembourg (2007), the Czech Republic (2014), Malta (2016) and Hungary (2017) as member states.

Associate membership

In 2003, realising the increasingly global nature of big scientific challenges and the need for international cooperation in research, EMBL introduced the Associate Membership Scheme, making it possible for non-European countries to access all EMBL programmes and services. Associate member states have a reduced membership contribution to the budget of the laboratory and participate in EMBL Council meetings as observers with no voting rights. The first country to become an associate member was Australia in 2008, followed by Argentina in 2014.

Prospect membership

When entering into a prospect membership with EMBL a state commits to accede to EMBL after three years and is able to access the laboratory's services and programmes, as well as attend Council meetings as an observer. Currently EMBL has prospect membership arrangements with three states: Slovakia and Poland, which applied in 2014 and Lithuania which has been a prospect member since 2015.

Therefore, today EMBL is supported by 23 member states, two associate member states and three prospect member states.

EU relations

EMBL also has close relations with the European Commission (EC), and the EC has an observer status in the EMBL Council. The first agreement on collaboration was signed in 1995 and was renewed with a Memorandum of Understanding in 2011. The Memorandum outlines key areas of cooperation contributing to the completion of the European Research Area.

Observer status

Finally, upon invitation by the Chair of the EMBL Council, representations of states that are involved in official negotiations with EMBL in view of becoming a member of the organisation can take part in Council meetings as observers.