ME and Ophelia

Saturday, May 01, 2004

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The EU now is the world's biggest trading bloc

Today is a hugely significant day for Europe.

Ten new states joined the European Union, in the biggest expansion in its 52 year history.

Initially, the EU consisted of just six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995.

Today, 1 May 2004, the biggest ever enlargement took place with 10 new countries joining.

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.

Hundreds of thousands packed city squares in the 10 newcomer states to watch fireworks and hear Beethoven's Ode to Joy - the EU's official anthem. 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.

With a population of 455m, the EU now is the world's biggest trading bloc. It is now the world's biggest single market, in population terms, though the North American Free Trade Agreement remains larger in terms of economic might.

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)

Some enthusiasts are describing the enlargement as a millenial event, comparable to the creation of great empires.

Why has it happened?

Supporters of enlargement say this was a historic opportunity to unite Europe peacefully after generations of division and conflict.

They say it has extended the stability and prosperity of current member states to a wider group of countries, making Europe a safer place.

The size of the single market should boost the EU economy and create jobs, while increasing the influence of the EU in the wider world.

As current holders of the EU Presidency, Ireland has the honour of hosting the Enlargement of the Union to 25 member states. Heads of State and Government from all the EU countries will attend a special flag-raising ceremony in Dublin as part of this historic occasion.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern welcomed the new members and hailed a "day of hope and opportunity". He 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."

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, one of the fathers of European reunification said, "The message is there will never again be war in Europe."

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How will such a large expansion affect Europe and the rest of the world? How will the new members adjust to life inside the union? Here's what people think.
In quotes: Leaders hail new EU.
Q&A: EU enlargement.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 5/01/2004
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