EU Celebrates, Considers How to Make Orderly Home
Sat Dec 14, 9:28 AM ET
By Brian Williams
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - The European Union was on the road to becoming wider and bigger on Saturday after embracing 10 mostly ex-communist nations but now has to make an orderly home for 450 million people speaking a multitude of languages.
With all-night champagne parties celebrating the EUs biggest ever expansion over, reality was still setting in about what comes next and what could still go wrong.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (C) shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul (L) next to French President Jacques Chirac (R) during the EU enlargement summit in Copenhagen, December 13, 2002. The European Union was on the road to becoming wider and bigger Dec. 14 after embracing 10 mostly ex-communist nations but now has to make an orderly home for 450 million people speaking a multitude of languages. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)
The decision to add 10 new members to the present 15 came at the end of an intense two-day Copenhagen summit and means the EU's population will grow by 20 percent to 450 million people, creating an economic colossus to rival the United States.
On the horizon are another 65 million if Turkey fulfils its pledge to be ready to start formal entry talks by 2004.
"Good Morning Europe," was the headline of Poland's leading business daily Rzeczpospolita while Slovenia's Novy Cas proclaimed "Weve got it. They invited us to the EU."
"Europe is spreading its wings in freedom, in prosperity and in peace. This is a truly proud moment for the European Union," Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the summit host, said in an emotional final speech.
Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta won the right to join the EU in May 2004, creating a bloc of 25 nations extending from the Atlantic to the eastern Mediterranean.
The candidates, whose 75 million citizens are, on average, less than half as well off as their EU counterparts, won promises of extra cash, higher farm subsidies and output quotas in bargaining which ran late into Friday evening.
EU leaders made minor concessions, but managed to keep the overall cost of paying for the expansion to some 40.8 billion euros -- less than was originally budgeted back in 1999.
But the challenges before formal entry are many.
TOWER OF BABEL
They range from a risk of the EU turning into a so-called "Tower of Babel" from the many languages in which negotiations must now be conducted to gridlock on decisions because of the need for consensus and unanimity.
The first steps are referendums in the 10 countries accepted at the summit on arrangements -- mainly financial -- for entry.
Hungary is the first with a referendum in April followed by votes in other countries over the next year.
Reflecting deep-seated concerns of becoming second-class EU citizens, opponents were already setting out their stalls.
"Also Officially in Europe" wrote Slovenian daily Delo. It derided EU farm policy as "catastrophic."
Polands Lech Walesa, former leader of the Solidarity trade union, could not resist a swipe at the deal Poland negotiated.
"We paid a heavy price for this day. Those who once pulled us to the East now pull us to the West," he said.
Czech Republic political commentator Viliam Buchert said economic benefits were not the important issues.
"Why haggle with Brussels for a few euros when there is no discussion on whether the united Europe will not take away a part of our sovereignty?" he asked in a newspaper article.
But money, and the prospect at last of access to the EUs lucrative markets was on the mind of many business people.
"I hope the huge pile of papers I need to import and sell western things here will now disappear. Unless Brussels prepares new ones..." said Marek Budic, 42, a food importer in Prague.
The looming new blocs population of 450 million becomes the worlds largest market surpassing the 420 million in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
However its economic power of $9.5 trillion is second to NAFTAs nearly $12 trillion.
The United States welcomed the landmark accord.
"...the European Union's decision further unites the new and the established democracies of Europe, and advances the creation of a Europe whole, free, and at peace," said a statement issued by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (news - web sites).
Turkey, whose hopes of an early EU invitation were dashed after a lobbying effort backed by the United States, preferred to look at a glass half full rather than half empty.
The summit said it would review Muslim Turkey's progress in human rights in late 2004 with an eye to opening talks in mid-2005. Turkish leaders had wanted a firm talks date in 2003.
"Yesterday's decision was a step forward for Turkey, and we assess it as a closer approach to the EU," Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said.
"The glass is not half empty. We need to look at the full half," Sener told a conference at the alpine resort of Abant.
Turkeys mass-circulation Milliyet said the summit was one of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
"We finally got a date, but not the date we wanted," the newspaper said.