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Europe's Historic Day

This article is kindly reprinted from THE WEEK, 8 May, 2004.


What happened

At midnight on Friday 30 April, the biggest expansion in the history of the EU was marked by celebrations across the continent. From Brussels to Nicosia, hundreds of thousands gathered to watch fireworks and hear Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU's official anthem. At a summit in Dublin, leaders of the ten new member states - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta and Greek Cyprus -were welcomed by their counterparts from the 15 existing members. The EU is now the biggest trading bloc in the world, with a population of 455 million people and 20 official languages. Eight of the new member states were communist-ruled until the end of the Cold War.


Tony Blair saluted the new members, which, he said, shared Britain's pro-American outlook and its "liberal, competitive" approach to economic policy. Meanwhile, Michael Howard -unveiling the Conservative manifesto for the 10 June European elections - declared his opposition to the proposed EU constitution, and promised to stop the drift towards "a country called Europe".


What the editorials said

Europe is whole again, said The Independent. Just as the common market united a Western Europe that had been torn apart by two world wars, enlargement will end the 50-year split between East and West. If the celebrations have been somewhat muted, said the Daily Mail, that is because people are suspicious of another Brussels power-grab. The EU has shown itself to be "sclerotic, corrupt, over-regulated and over-prescriptive"; is it any wonder that the British are wary of signing up to its proposed constitution? As for welcoming the new member states: most people in this country are just worried about cheap labour from eastern Europe flooding the job market.


There is no need to be afraid, said The Economist. Expansion will be good for all of us, bringing trade, jobs and higher living standards to countries that suffered terribly under Communism, and helping to shake the EU's heartland out of its economic slough. The new countries will change the direction that Europe is going in, making it more of "a jumble of different groupings", rather than the "monolithic entity" envisioned by the Franco-German hard-core. All this is cause for rejoicing.

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