Monday, January 01, 2007

I. H. Tribune: Fireworks and cheers bring Romania and Bulgaria into EU

Fireworks and cheers bring Romania and Bulgaria into EU
Romania becomes 7th-largest in Union
International Herald Tribune, The Associated Press
Published: January 1, 2007

BUCHAREST: Blue and gold EU flags fluttered across Bucharest and fireworks thundered through the sky in Romania and Bulgaria as the two former Communist nations loudly and joyously joined the European Union.
"We arrived in Europe," President Traian Basescu said, prompting cheers from tens of thousands of Romanian revelers packed into University Square. "Welcome to Europe."
Earlier, he said that, by joining the EU, "we are assured peace and prosperity."
The two Balkan nations brought 30 million new members to the Union on Monday and expanded the number of member countries to 27.
In Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, thousands who crammed into Battenberg Square cheered and embraced each other as the clock struck midnight Sunday and brought in the new year. Fireworks lit the sky over the building the Communist Party once used as its headquarters.

In an emotional speech minutes before midnight, President Georgi Parvanov called the nation's approaching entry into the EU a "heavenly moment."
"The day we are welcoming — Jan. 1, 2007 — will undoubtedly find its place among the most important dates in our national history," Parvanov said. "But let's make it clear: our future success as a nation depends not on European funds and resources, but on our own work."
Despite the enthusiasm, the two countries are in one of the poorest corners of Europe and are under pressure to adopt Western-style political change.
Ana Maria Zarnescu, a retiree from Cluj, the principal city of Transylvania, said, "Europe is adopting us like poor relatives or orphans, but I hope they will become fond of us because we are hard-working and inventive."
Romania, with a population of 22 million, becomes the EU's seventh- largest member. It is about half the size of Poland, but double the size of Hungary and Czech Republic. Bulgaria has a population of 7.7 million.
For Romania, which suffered one of Eastern Europe's most brutal Communist dictatorships under Nicolae Ceausescu before he was overthrown and executed in 1989, being moored to the EU marks an important symbolic final break with a difficult past.
For Bulgaria, whose history is marked by conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and Soviet occupation, EU membership is also viewed as a source of economic and democratic stability.
The two impoverished countries threw off Communism in 1989, applied for EU membership in 1995 and began accession talks in 2000. Negotiations ended two years ago, and the European Commission declared in September that both could join.
But both nations are still struggling to establish Western-style legal and political institutions. Under restrictions adopted by the EU, both must report every six months to show progress in reforms or risk losing part of their economic aid.
Despite lingering problems with corruption and judicial change, both countries recently have had strong economic growth.
Still, salaries remain low by Western European standards. In Bulgaria, the average monthly wage is €178, or $235, while the average Romanian earns €303 monthly.
Romania expects to receive as much as €1.7 billion from the EU in the first year after entry, while Bulgaria would be entitled to €661 million.
The EU is experiencing expansion fatigue following the bloc's enlargement in May 2004 from 15 countries to 25.
With the latest additions, the EU has a population of nearly 489 million, and it will work in 32 official languages, ranging from Bulgarian to Gaelic.
European wariness about the future shape of the Union was reflected in French and Dutch votes against a proposed EU constitution in 2005. Since then, there have been calls across the bloc for the pace of enlargement to slow down.
Such ambivalence, stoked by fears of immigration and Europe's lackluster economic performance, has been most prominently expressed in opposition to admitting Turkey. But it also has cast a shadow over the admission of Romania and Bulgaria, which have been criticized for corruption.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/01/news/EU.php

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