OPINION

Ten years since the signature of the Treaty of Athens

Ten years ago, on April 16, 2003, the Treaty of Accession to the European Union of 10 European countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia – was signed in Athens. This historical event took place during the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union and is enshrined forever as one of the most important documents of the reunited Europe.

Later, on May 1, 2004, all our countries became fully fledged members of the reunified European family comprising 25 member states at that time. It was the largest single expansion since the Paris Treaty of 1951, the forerunner of the EU, in terms of population, number of states and territory.

Moreover, it was the symbolic completion of the vital strategic goal of all the acceding member states to finally put an end to the post-World War II period by returning to the common space of freedom and stability, democracy and prosperity. The signature of the Treaty of Athens opened a new era for the acceding countries, for their citizens and ultimately for the whole of Europe.

Ten years after the signature, as members of the European Union, we all can state that it was the right decision. This was the overwhelming choice by the people. It was not only based on the perspective of future benefits of the common economic area, or the single market offering free movement of capital, goods and people; it was also founded on the understanding of inevitable internal structural reforms that had been carried out along the integration path toward the European Union.

The 2004 EU enlargement would not have been feasible without the strong and sincere support of all EU member states. The prospects of EU membership acted as a catalyst and the main driving force for positive changes in the social climate, economic growth, better living standards, higher incomes, more jobs and more development. However, among the most important aspects of this change was the hope to share and enjoy those European values that our societies had missed for so long. Our citizens, the real players in establishing the foundation for societies, made it possible for all 10 new EU member states to have a successful journey. Today, they continue to serve as an example and motivation for those candidates who wish to join the EU in the future.

As an inseparable part of the EU, we contribute to strengthening the European project, to keeping its values alive and to spreading them in our neighborhood in the East and the South. Moreover, all 10 members actively participate in the shaping of European policies, and seek to make the EU more competitive and technologically and innovatively more advanced. They contribute to making the Union better prepared for future challenges in the current globalized world as an active player in dynamic international affairs. Above all, the main task to be addressed is to ensure that the EU continues to be a reliable and safe place to live in. If necessary, all member states have to offer solidarity based on the genuine efforts of all of us to show the necessary responsibility for the benefit of the whole EU.

Looking back at those events 10 years ago, one is struck how appropriately the Greek EU Presidency chose the venue for the solemn act of signature by heads of states, prime ministers and foreign ministers from all the member states. It took place in the Stoa of Attalos at the Ancient Agora of Athens, in the cradle of democracy that the Athenian philosophers developed in ancient Greece. Democracy still prevails as the best form of government, offering guarantees for free and open societies and nations.

As such, the Treaty of Accession to the European Union in Athens of these 10 European countries remains a symbol of the heritage of democracy being extended from the very place where it was born.

Hana Sevcikova, Ambassador of the Czech Republic

Andres Talvik, Ambassador of Estonia

Joseph Joseph, Ambassador of Cyprus

Ivars Pundurs, Ambassador of Latvia

Alfonsas Eidintas, Ambassador of Lithuania

Eszter Sandorfi, Ambassador of Hungary

Walter Balzan, Ambassador of Malta

Maciej Krych, Ambassador of Poland

Robert Basej, Ambassador of Slovenia

Peter Michalko, Ambassador of Slovakia