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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #85: May 10, 2004

European Union Celebrates Enlargement

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

"For Europe, today marks the closure of one chapter and the opening of another new and exciting chapter in its long history."

Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister and President of the European Council, 1 May 2004

The 1st May 2004 is destined to be a date that future generations of European school children will all learn as it marks one of the most significant chapters in modern European history. On this day, ten new countries joined the European Union, greatly expanding the number of member states from 15 to 25. From May, the EU became the world's most populous trading bloc comprising 455 million people.

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, is the current President of the European Council, a post which rotates amongst EU leaders every six months. As Ireland's presidency of the EU coincided with the expansion, it was given the task of overseeing the "Day of Welcomes." The country's charming capital, Dublin, provided the venue for the accession ceremony.

As the Irish premier greeted the leaders of each of the new member states, he temporarily cast off his usual easy-going style, assuming a much more regal persona. The whole occasion gave one the real impression of history in the making. Indeed, Mr. Ahern talked and acted like a man who knew that his words would echo down the long corridors of history. Basking in the splendid sunshine that graced Dublin, the Irish Prime Minister masterfully presided over a series of welcoming events.

In a statesman-like voice, and resonating with optimism, he attempted to capture the meaning of the day. He told Europe, and the rest of the world, "To the people of Europe who are joining us today in the European Union I extend the hand of friendship. It was your democratic choice and your own efforts that made this day happen. Today marks the triumph of your determination and perseverance over the legacy of history. For Europe, today marks the closure of one chapter and the opening of another new and exciting chapter in its long history."

For many enlargement means a peaceful Europe
As with all truly historic events, there was a diverse range of opinion on its significance and long-term implications. Many saw expansion as an incredibly positive step for the continent, others took a far more cautious approach. In almost every country there was an extremely wide spectrum of views (see reference articles below). However, it was universally acknowledged that this was a major historical development for Europe.

Naturally, the Irish premier was not the only European leader whose opinion rippled around the world, although as European President Ahern's words were certainly the most widely reported. Some of the most moving comments on the expansion came from the former German Chancellor, and EU enthusiast, Helmut Kohl. He summed up what the day meant for many elderly European, who like Kohl had experienced the horrors of WWII.

Germany's former Chancellor said, "We never want to wage war again against each other. We want to honour the dead and tend to the graves but we never again want to have soldiers' tombs in Europe. That is the most important reason for a united Europe." This sentiment is a tremendously potent one for all those who lived through the last continent-wide conflict and remember how prewar Europe used to be a bastion of instability, not the haven of peace we know today.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin described the feelings of many of the postwar generation about the peace-bringing dimension of the European project. He said, "I have tears in my eyes about this subject. 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."

Baltic States and East Europe see EU membership as rebirth
For many of the new Eastern European members accession was an especially symbolic moment, marking the final phase in their transformation from Soviet satellite countries to free democratic states. Pavol Hrusovsky, Parliamentary Speaker of Slovakia, said refereeing to Eastern European's time under Soviet domination, "For the generation which lived in captivity, the EU means a fulfillment of a dream."

For most of the former Soviet block nations, EU membership is almost like a religious right of passage. This was especially true for the three Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were all forcibly incorporated into the former Soviet Union during WWII.

Estonian Prime Minister, Juhan Parts, summed up this feeling, "We are returning to where we belong, to a community that shares the same values and visions." The Lithuanian President, Arturas Paulauskas, encapsulated the hopes and aspirations of the three Baltic States, "History will rectify its greatest mistake tonight: Lithuania, the geographical centre of Europe, is returning to Europe. Today, we are saying to the old continent: Hello Europe, we are coming. We are coming to live together, to work together, to create together, yet to remain ourselves."

Reference Maps

New EU Members and Candidate Countries Map (interactive)

EU Expansion Map 1952 - 2004 (interactive)

Reference Articles

Many Germans subdued at EU enlargement party
David Crossland, Reuters, 1 May 2004

Germany profits hugely from EU enlargement
Xinhua News (China View), 29 April 2004

Chirac defends EU enlargement
CNN, 29 April 2004

Blair lauds EU enlargement but warns off immigration cheats
Channel News Asia, 1 May 2004

US welcomes EU enlargement with expectations, worries
Xinhua News, 1 May 2004

Russia worried about new dividing wall post-EU enlargement
Henry Meyer, Daily Times (Pakistan)

EU enlargement to provide more opportunities for China
Xinhua News (China View), 1 May 2004

Economics of the EU enlargement
Marian L. Tupy, Washington Post, 3 May 2004

How the balance of EU power finally changed
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph, 19 April 2004

Real leadership for Europe
Japan Times, 23 February 2004

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