EU, with 10 new members, seeks stronger union

Amid the ruins of the ancient marketplace in which the male citizens of Athens first noisily governed each other as equals, in the birthplace of democracy, Europe’s nations yesterday took a large leap toward greater unity and pledged to solve their differences. In the European Union’s greatest single expansion, the 15 members signed an Accession Treaty with 10 new partners. For Greece, this was a particularly significant day, as Cyprus, still divided following the Turkish invasion of 1974, was welcomed into the EU, following years of effort by Athens and Nicosia. The other countries are Malta and former Soviet bloc members Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Europe’s leaders stressed their joy at ending Cold War divisions and their desire to put aside current differences that arose over their backing or opposition to US policy on Iraq. The delegations of the 25 countries were yesterday discussing a text on the UN’s role in Iraq first shaped by France, Germany, Britain and Spain. Government and diplomatic sources said this was expected to be signed on the fringes of today’s meeting. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Athens, met with EU leaders. «Today is an historic day, because we are ending the division of European countries into two rival camps… a division caused by World War II,» said Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country heads the EU. «This single whole that we have created is inspired by the principles and values which inspired our societies’ struggles for freedom, democracy and social justice,» he said at the ceremony’s start. Perhaps the glorious spring weather, the site or the hospitality of their hosts helped, or perhaps they had stared into the abyss of discord and stepped back, Europe’s leaders took the opportunity to talk to each other. French President Jacques Chirac and British PM Tony Blair, who had not met since before the Iraq war, had «amiable» talks. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder celebrated the start of a new era. «I am the leader of a country that began World War II, creating the causes for Europe’s division. It is also a country which suffered the consequences of war and was divided. We Germans are, therefore, especially happy that after the division of Germany has ended, so has the division of Europe,» he said. Chirac warned, «This new Europe will not meet the expectations of its citizens, as the recent crisis showed, if it does not clarify its political ambitions and reform its functions radically.» Blair said, «At a time when… there has been discord for reasons we all know, this treaty is a fundamental statement of unity here in Europe.»