Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to the EU :
"An important day in European history"
says José Manuel Barroso.

(Ben Heine © Cartoons)

On 1 January 2007 the EU welcomes two new Member States and 30 million people, when Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union. This completes the EU's historic fifth round of enlargement peacefully reuniting Western and Eastern Europe after decades of division. To mark this important day in European history President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso said: "The 1 January 2007 is a historic day to celebrate. I congratulate the people and leaders of Bulgaria and Romania ...
Welcoming Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, President Barroso said: “Finally the moment of celebration has arrived. 1 January 2007 will be an important day in European history. Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to the EU completes our historic fifth round of enlargement, which peacefully reunified Western and Eastern Europe.”
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn added: “When welcoming two new Member States and 30 million people into the family, we know our debates, culture and heritage will be richer, and our mutual ties and economies will be boosted. Enlargement is not a project for the elite, but it is very much about enhancing everyday life of ordinary citizens. Let’s celebrate this moment with as many people as possible.”
Romania and Bulgaria join the EU

Sofia -- Bulgarians and Romanians awoke as European Union citizens Monday as the bloc expanded to 27 nations and almost half a billion people.

Membership fulfilled "a generation's dream," Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said. The two Balkan neighbors officially joined at midnight, to the thunder of New Year fireworks. "A dream came true today, a dream for generations of Bulgarians who wished to live together with the free and democratic peoples of Europe in peace and prosperity," Stanishev said Monday. Thousands of revelers across Bulgaria and Romania greeted the New Year and celebrated their countries' EU entry with concerts, street parties and fireworks shows.

In Bulgaria, people also wore ribbons of solidarity with five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya after almost eight years in jail. The nurses, and a Palestinian doctor, were convicted December 19 on charged of intentionally infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, despite scientific evidence that the children were infected before the medical workers began their contracts in Libya.

"We will go on fighting for the release of the nurses and we will then celebrate together with them," Stanishev told the crowd celebrating New Year's Day and the EU entry at Sofia's Battenberg Square. In the night, Bulgaria took down the customs barriers at 15 border crossings with Greece and Romania as they all became part of the European Union's single market.

However, controls at Bulgaria's borders with Turkey, Serbia and Macedonia were strengthened to comply with EU standards, said Asen Asenov, the head of the customs agency.

In Bucharest, Romanian President Traian Basescu hailed the end of a painful, 17-year reform process that finally brought the two states to European Union entry. "It was hard, but we arrived at the end of the road. It is the road of our future. It is the road of our joy," Basescu said, prompting cheers from a crowd of tens of thousands of revelers packed into University Square.

Later Monday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and Germany's Foreign Minister were to fly to Bulgaria from Romania to join Bulgarian officials at a ceremony to hoist the European flags at Sofia's Alexander Nevski Square.

In the evening, festivities in Sofia were to continue with a gala at the National Palace of Culture, to be attended by President Georgi Parvanov and EU Parliament President Josep Borrell. Many Bulgarians and Romanians met their countries' EU entry with enthusiasm, saying they pinned their hopes for a better future on EU standards and funds.

"We greet the New Year and the EU entry with optimism and hopes for better living standards," said Ognyan Dilov, one of the revelers in Sofia. But some were cautious about what EU membership would mean for them.

Ionut Budi, 38, a club owner in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta, said the EU would bring Romania much-needed discipline but he was concerned there would be too much uniformity. The two nations, from one of the poorest corners of Europe, are joining under strict conditions and at a time when EU leaders are putting the brakes on further enlargement.

"Europe is adopting us like poor relatives or orphans, but I hope they will become fond of us because we are hardworking and inventive," said Ana Maria Zarnescu, 64, a retiree from the Romanian city of Cluj. Both countries must report to the EU every six months to show progress in reforms, or risk losing a chunk of economic aid.

Rehn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, praised Romania and Bulgaria for "impressive reforms in strengthening democracy, modernizing their countries, making their justice systems more efficient and independent." He said EU membership would "bring concrete improvements to the everyday life of citizens" by increasing food safety, cleaning up the environment and repairing roads.

Bulgaria and Romania applied for EU membership in 1995 and began accession talks in 2000. The negotiations ended two years ago, and the European Commission declared in September that both were ready to join the bloc.

Despite lingering problems with corruption and judicial reforms, both countries have had strong economic growth following years of deep recession. Growth in 2006 is estimated at 5.5 percent in Bulgaria and 7 percent in Romania. Still, salaries remain low by western European standards. In Bulgaria, the average monthly wage is euro180 (US$235); in Romania, about euro305 (US$400).