A New Europe Bursts on the Scene
European Union expands by 10 countries
BRUSSELS, Belgium - 05/01/04 - The European Union has almost doubled in size with todays accession of 10 nations isolated during the Cold War.
The event - heralded by church bells and fireworks from Dublin to Prague - creates a trade bloc of 25 countries almost equal in economic clout to the United States. At the same time, the newly created European market of 450 million people is larger than the 420 million served by the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encompasses Mexico, Canada, and the US.
The world body'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.
The EU flag was raised 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 Lithuania, the Associated Press?reported, people used powerful searchlights, bonfires, lamps and even candles in a bid to make their country "the brightest in Europe."
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."
But the jubilation, reports the AP,?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 Friday.
Leftist protesters marched in Berlin for "communism instead of Europe," and a group of avowed Czech "Euro-skeptics" planned a mock funeral to "bury" the country's sovereignty.
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 United Nations reunification plan.
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