Text Box:                                                         Festivals and Fireworks Herald A New Europe

                                                   "PA" (UK) Sat 1 May 2004


Church bells rang and fireworks lit up the sky over eastern Europe at midnight as the European Union ushered in a bold new era, expanding to take in a region isolated during the Cold War.

Ten countries joined the EU bloc in a historic enlargement that brings in a region separated for decades from the West by barbed wire and Soviet ideology. With its expansion to 25 countries, the bloc now becomes a collective economic giant rivalling the US.

Hundreds of thousands of revellers packed city squares in the newcomer nations, whose entry after overcoming tyranny 15 years ago was hailed by EU leaders as “the end of the artificial divisions of the last century”.

The EU’s biggest expansion in its 47-year history brings in eight formerly communist countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – along with Cyprus and Malta. Together, they boost the EU’s population to 450 million people.

Heads of state were gathering in Ireland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, for a formal “Day of Welcomes” in Dublin tomorrow.

“For me, it’s a great day,” said Lenka Sladka, 24, a Prague university student. “Now we can freely travel or study everywhere. My parents could not even dream of it.”

Eliza Malek, a 17-year-old celebrant in Warsaw, Poland, said: “It’s a day that we will read about in history books.

The EU flag – a circle of yellow stars on a blue field – went up outside the presidential palace in tiny Slovakia, where parliament speaker Pavol Hrusovsky delivered a stirring reminder of how far the country has come since shaking off communism.

“In 1989, we cut up the barbed wire,” he said. “Pieces of this wire have for us become a symbol of the end of the totalitarian regime.

“For the generation which lived in captivity of the barbed wire, the EU means a fulfilment of a dream.”

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he gets misty just thinking about it.

“I get tears in my eyes,” he said while meeting with students from the 10 new countries. “I am part of a generation that believes in Europe. Europe is the force that prevents hate from being eternal. We must open our hearts to this new Europe.”

Enlargement signals a “completely new chapter” in relations between Germany and Poland that were blackened by the Nazi occupation, German President Johannes Rau said in a landmark speech to the Polish parliament.

In the German town of Zittau, “E-Day” festivities were held in a grassy meadow on the Neisse River where Germany meets Poland and the Czech Republic. Makeshift pontoon bridges, festooned with national and EU flags, were set up to link the three. neighbours.

But the jubilation was tinged with frustration: fears in the newcomer nations of a loss of national identity and steep price increases, and worries in the EU’s core 15 member states of a crush of immigrants as national borders gradually disappear.

Bomb threats forced the closure of a key border crossing between the Czech Republic and Germany for more than four hours today. Left-wing protesters marched in Berlin for ”communism instead of Europe” and a group of avowed Czech eurosceptics planned a mock funeral tomorrow to “bury” the country’s sovereignty.

“Joining the EU is a necessary evil,” said Zsolt Meszaros, 35, a Budapest doctor. “There are just too many uncertainties in all of this to make me more enthusiastic.”

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sought to allay concerns among Germans that lower-paid workers from Poland and other eastern countries would threaten their jobs. Greater trade across the enlarged Europe “will make us not poorer, but richer”, he said in a nationally broadcast speech.

Musicians clad in EU national costumes played traditional songs on Prague’s central Wenceslas Square, where the mass demonstrations of former President Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution ended communism in the Soviet-dominated country he famously dubbed “Absurdistan”.

Enlargement was born of “centuries nourished by intolerance, conquests and war”, European Commission President Romano Prodi told a ceremony at a town on the Slovene-Italian border.

In Lithuania, people used powerful searchlights, bonfires, lamps and even candles in a bid to make their country “the brightest in Europe”.

The mood was muted in Cyprus, which remains divided between ethnic Turks and Greeks. Cypriots in the Greek-controlled south decorated the main square in the capital, Nicosia, with EU flags, and musicians from around the world performed into the night.

But no celebrations were planned in the Mediterranean island’s Turkish-occupied north, where EU benefits and laws will not apply after Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification plan.

In Hungary, where church bells nationwide tolled at midnight, an exuberant Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy hailed his country’s return to the European mainstream.

Hungary “was always at the gates of Europe”, he said.

“The significant difference is that now we are inside the gates.”


Now that the celebrations are underway, it's easy to forget how difficult the process of enlargement has often been. Not only the 10 new members have been forced to adapt, the EU itself has had to change.

Since the EU summit in Copenhagen in December 2002, one thing has been clear: 10 new members would cross the threshold to the European Union on May 1, 2004.

"To our new members I say: 'Warmly welcome to our family. Our new Europe is born." Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was visibly proud when he announced the historic breakthrough more than two years ago and officially extended the invitation to the 10 states to join the then 15.

"We have finally closed the bloody chapters of the Cold War and two world wars devastating Europe and its people. We have replaced them with a clear and common vision of an integrated Europe."

A lengthy process

But the road to enlargement was a lengthy one. It started almost 10 years earlier, also under a Danish presidency, when the EU laid out the foundations for what was to become the biggest expansion in its history. In 1993 member states formulated the so-called Copenhagen criteria according to which candidates would have to fulfill certain political and economic standards before they could be admitted to the bloc. The door was opened to all those who meet the criteria, including such fundamental basics as stability, democracy, the rule of law and the establishment of competitive market economies.

At the time, Brussels had already signed agreements with Hungary, Poland and the former Czechoslovakia, which guaranteed them future entrance into the EU. In 1993, the bloc agreed to association treaties with Romania and Bulgaria. The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, entered negotiations in 1995; and Slovenia began the admission process in 1996.

While the eastern European countries began shaking off the yoke of communism, the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus entered into enlargement talks and were quickly given official candidate status. By the late 1990s Turkey had also entered the picture, but Ankara's wish to be included in the list of candidates was postponed.

The question of how to incorporate the candidate countries quickly became one of logistical importance. Should the countries be divided into groups and given different deadlines, or is it better to begin the accession process with all of them at the same time? In 1998 it was decided that the EU enter into negotiations with all 12 candidates at the same time -- only Turkey was left out.

Agenda 2000

By then it had become readily apparent that such an invitation also required that the EU itself change. What worked in terms of decision making for 15 countries would become nearly impossible with 25. The principle of unanimity, for example, was no longer applicable. If each country were to continue to exercise its veto right on practically every ministerial decision, the EU would be paralyzed. On the financial level, the issue of farm subsidies had to be re-examined. Since most of the candidate countries have a large agricultural sector, Brussels could not afford to continue paying out subsidies to the same extent it had with older members.

Such internal reforms proved to be a long and agonizing process. The first attempt to get the EU in shape for the expansion process was in 1997 at the EU summit in Berlin. There, the 15 member states approved the strategy "Agenda 2000." It became the working foundation for the watershed summit in Nice three years later.

In June 2000, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder summed up the aspirations of the bloc when he said, "The current 15 members will be ready for accession in 2002, beginning of 2003. It is a duty we have taken upon ourselves and we must achieve it in Nice."

The summit in southern France, however, turned into a conflict-plagued marathon session. Although most of the reforms could be agreed to, such as the decision to open up several areas to a simple majority vote, other points still proved quite sticky. It wasn't until late 2002, for instance, that government leaders devised a plan for farm subsidies, which capped the benefits and permitted candidate countries to receive the full amount of subsidies only in incremental steps.

In many regards, though, even these issues are still not resolved to everyone's satisfaction. The issue of voting continues to be a point of contention in current discussions about the Constitution; and largely agriculture-dependent countries such as Poland are unhappy with the distribution of farm subsidies.

Homework completed

Nonetheless, by the end of 2002 the EU had overcome the last procedural hurdles and was ready to accept new members. At the same time, 10 of the candidate countries had completed their homework to such an extent that Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen recommended admitting them: "These 10 countries deserve to become members. They have succeeded on their own in meeting the incredibly hard and ambitious accession criteria to be admitted in the European Union."

Now just as the current enlargement is being celebrated, the next round of expansion is already being planned. Bulgaria and Romania, who missed joining this year, should be ready to enter the bloc in 2007. After that more countries could follow. The Turkish application is being reassessed later this year, and Ankara hopes it will receive a concrete date for admission talks to begin. And Croatia, a late-comer in the negotiations, has proved to be particularly eager in implementing the Copenhagen criteria.

"In the interest of our children"

Even if the present enlargement is not without critics, the door to the EU will not shut on May 1, 2004. Despite the hostility from many older members towards expanding Europe's borders further east and south, the process will surely continue. In the words German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: "Our gain in terms of security and economic growth is invaluable. Therefore enlargement is in our interest and in the interest of our children and grandchildren."

Klaus Dahmann (ktz)


Europe reunited as 10 nations join the family

DUBLIN : Europe stood proudly reunited on Saturday almost six decades after it was split in two by the Cold War, as 10 nations in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean took their places in the European Union.  

The once-communist states of the Czech Republic , Estonia , Hungary , Latvia , Lithuania , Poland , Slovakia and Slovenia officially joined the EU family at the stroke of midnight Central European summer time.  

Mediterranean islands Cyprus and Malta joined them as well, rounding out what is indisputably the world's biggest single economic bloc, and a fledgling political force, with a total population of 455 million. 

"For Europe , today marks the closure of one chapter and the opening of another new and exciting chapter in its long history," said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose nation holds the rotating EU presidency.  

"Size matters," added European Commission President Romano Prodi. "The enlarged union ... can achieve far more than individual countries could ever hope to achieve separately."  

Leaders from all 25 member states converged on Dublin for a ceremonial rising of their national flags, before sitting down to a dinner

marking the end of the EU's biggest and most ambitious expansion.  

From the North Atlantic to the Russian frontier, enlargement was celebrated with fireworks and street concerts, with the liveliest festivities seen in the new EU states that once toiled under the jackboot of Soviet oppression.

It's first May Day, and Europe gets bigger

Today marks the official enlargement of Europ's economic and political union.
WARSAW, May 1 (Reuters) - Millions of people across the former communist East Bloc woke up as citizens of an enlarged European Union on Saturday, and fresh celebrations got under way across the continent to mark the final end of the Cold War.

National and star-studded blue EU flags fluttered in towns and villages across eight central and east European states that endured decades of Soviet-dominated communist rule, and on the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.

"It looks the same if you look outside the window, but we are now in the EU," a Warsaw radio presenter said introducing the news early on Saturday.

The EU's biggest expansion came into effect at midnight on Friday, increasing the bloc's membership from 15 to 25 members, its population by 75 million, and its territory by 25 percent.

Hundreds of thousands thronged open-air parties, concerts and firework shows from the Atlantic to the Baltic and the Mediterranean as the EU threw open its gates to new members.

Political leaders and ordinary people hailed the final closing of Europe's east-west divide, 15 years after the Berlin Wall fell and 60 years after the end of World War Two.

For East Europeans in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, enlargement crowns 15 years of often painful economic reforms since the collapse of communist rule.

Most cheer, but some protest

"It was difficult to imagine this 15 years ago," said Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first non-communist prime minister after Solidarity seized power in the breakthrough year 1989.

"We are becoming part of a good family, one to which we have been related to for years but have been separated from by history," he told Reuters at an open-air fete in one of Warsaw's Royal castles.

Nearby, some 1,800 extreme nationalists held an anti-EU demonstration, carrying banners comparing the EU to the former Soviet Union. "Shame, shame, shame," they chanted.

The EU faces profound change as it tries to integrate poorer countries, stay manageable and control immigration and organised crime as borders move 1,000 km (620 miles) eastwards to adjoin Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

But this weekend, the EU takes a breather from its routine rows over money, power and fish quotas to celebrate.

More than 100,000 revellers thronged central Budapest, feting their return with fireworks, music and champagne.

In Poland's historic capital Krakow, 40,000 people cheered as a traditional bugle call sounded from the town's highest church tower was followed by Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," the official EU anthem.

Celebrating highlanders in the Tatra mountains spanning the border between Poland and Slovakia hacked down a frontier barrier to usher in borderless travel in the expanded EU, Polish media said.

Summit in Dublin

Leaders of the new 25-nation bloc, representing 450 million citizens, hold a ceremonial summit in Dublin later on Saturday to mark the birth of the world's biggest trading bloc, rivalling the United States.

Blue was the dominant colour in Dublin as cloudless skies, countless EU flags and blue uniforms of some 5,000 police in the streets blended in anticipation of the leaders' arrival.

Some 100,000 people were gathering to take part in a mega-picnic in a small corner of land near the German city of Zittau, where Polish, Czech, and German borders meet. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his Polish and Czech counterparts were attending the happening.

Rejoicing was more muted in Cyprus after split referendums last Saturday meant the Greek Cypriot south of the island joins the EU despite rejecting a U.N. peace plan, while the Turkish Cypriot north remains outside despite voting "yes."


EU newcomers welcomed to the club

10 new countries (up to 25) · 74 million people (up to 455m) · 444bn euro of extra GDP (up to 9,613bn)  · 738,573 sq km of territory
(up to 4m sq km)

The new 25-member European Union has heralded its historic expansion with celebrations across the new bloc.

The 15 old members welcomed in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia at midnight.

The most high-profile festivities took place in Ireland, current holder of the rotating EU presidency. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern welcomed the new members and hailed a "day of hope and opportunity".

In bright spring sunshine, the leaders of the new member states were welcomed in a simple ceremony in the grounds of the Irish president's official residence by their counterparts from the existing 15 members.

They watched as young people from all 25 countries presented their national flags, which were then raised together alongside the EU flag as a mass choir sang the EU anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Mr Ahern spoke of the progress that Europe had made over the past decades, saying it had moved from war to peace.

He went on: "From hatred there is now respect, from division there is union, and from dictatorship and oppression there is democracy. "

But he also made reference to the challenges ahead for the enlarged club - notably the need to find agreement on the thorny issue of a constitution, and to narrow the now even more pronounced wealth gap between members.

"There is indeed much work to be done," he said.

Ireland mounted its biggest security operation since Pope John Paul II visited in 1979 in preparation for the celebrations.

In Saturday evening, riot police used water cannon to break up hundreds of anti-capitalist protesters in Dublin, but no serious incidents were reported.

Joy and uncertainty

With a population of 455m, the EU now is the world's biggest trading bloc.

Hundreds of thousands packed city squares in the newcomer states to watch fireworks and hear Beethoven's Ode to Joy - the EU's official anthem.

The BBC's Tim Franks says some enthusiasts are describing the enlargement as a millennial event, comparable to the creation of great empires.

This is a hugely significant day for Europe, our correspondent says, but it is nowhere near the end of the story.

In the existing member states, there is more uncertainty over immigration, over the new balance of forces within the EU and over whom the club should admit next.

For the newcomers, there are concerns about price hikes without commensurate salary increases.

There is also disappointment that established members have placed restrictions of up to seven years on freedom of movement for workers from the relatively poor east into the west.

Eight of the new members are former communist states, joining the Western club only 15 years after most of them emerged from years of Soviet domination. Some did not even regain their independence until just over a decade ago.

'No war again'

The other two new members - Malta and Cyprus - are Mediterranean islands.

But Cypriot membership is being overshadowed by the exclusion of the island's Turkish Cypriot part, following an inconclusive referendum on reunification a week ago.

One of the fathers of European reunification, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, spoke through tears when he addressed thousands at a ceremony in the German town of Zittau, which borders both Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The message is there will never again be war in Europe," Mr Kohl said.

Marek Wos, a 40-year-old Polish businessman attending the celebrations in Warsaw, said it was a good day for his country.

"We will no longer be second-class people from a second-class country," he said.