EU invites new members to join historic expansion
COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- The European Union invited 10 new members to join it Friday in a historic opening to the former communist east designed to reunite the continent after decades of Cold War division.
The agreement was reached at the end of one of the most significant European meeting for decades. Years of intricate negotiations ended with warm embraces from leaders once separated by the Iron Curtain.
For Poland, the largest newcomer which held out longest to secure a good deal from the EU, the day was packed with significance, falling on the 21st anniversary of the imposition of martial law that stifled opposition to communist rule.
The expansion fixed for May 1, 2004, is the largest ever for the EU, an organization conceived in the 1950s to pacify a continent torn apart by World War II.
"When we look back at the history of Europe ... and we reflect back on all the war and conflict, we realize that we are reuniting Europe," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "It is a day we can truly be proud of."
The expansion was secured only after two-days of tense summit negotiations as the candidates sought more money for their farmers and poor regions.
Before Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta can join the union, their citizens must approve membership in referendums next year.
"Europe is spreading its wings in freedom and in prosperity," said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the meeting's host, who compared the day's significance to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"Welcome to our new family. Our new Europe is born," said Fogh Rasmussen, as leaders of all 25 nations posed for a group photograph.
In another move packed with symbolism, EU leaders firmed up an offer to make Turkey the first Muslim nation to open membership talks if it meets criteria in a December 2004 review.
Wording that Turkey can enter "without delay" after that date was introduced late in the summit after lobbying by Blair. It appeased Turkish anger, which erupted after the summit stopped short of its demand of entry talks in 2003.
Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul at first denounced the EU for "prejudice against us." Hours later he proclaimed "we have gotten a date a little further than we expected (but) we will continue on the road to the European Union."
Turkey immediately showed its good will. At NATO headquarters in Belgium, it dropped objections that had held up a proposed EU military force of up to 60,000 peacekeepers for months.
Turkey had used its position in NATO to effectively veto the force by denying it access to NATO assets such as planning, airlift or intelligence -- unless it receive ironclad guarantees the EU military would never be used against its interests.
Following Turkey's decision the force can become operational next year. EU leaders immediately suggested it could be used to replace NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia.
President Bush had called EU leaders to back Turkey. Washington sees Turkey as a vital ally in America's war against terrorism, a possible staging post for attacks on its neighbor Iraq, and a democratic, secular model for other Muslim nations.
Many EU nations share that view, while others are queasy about bringing in a poor Muslim nation of 66 million people that is frequently criticized for its human rights record.
American lobbying annoyed some EU officials who wondered aloud how Washington would react if the Europeans asked it to take on Mexico as a 51st state.
The EU leaders also confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania would remain on track to join in 2007.
One area where the summit failed to find agreement was the division of Cyprus. U.N. mediated talks on the margin of the EU meeting were unable to bring Turkish and Greek Cypriots together around a peace plan that would end the 28-year division of the Mediterranean island.
Instead the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot part will join the EU along with the other nine candidates.
With the new members, the EU will surpass the North American Free Trade Agreement as the world's largest market, with 445 million people compared to NAFTA's 416 million.
The expansion underscores the EU's role as an economic bloc second only to NAFTA with a gross domestic product of $9.46 trillion, compared to $11.9 trillion for the NAFTA bloc of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Once the new members are in the EU, their 75 million citizens will be free to trade, travel or live anywhere in the bloc -- although some will face transitional measures for a few years.
"Economies of the new members will develop faster, and investment will come, we can sell our goods in Europe and we can travel and work in Europe." said Prime Minister Siim Kallas of Estonia. "Europe represents a new space for opportunity for us."