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EU welcomes 10 new members
Updated: 2004-05-01 09:12

Capitals across Europe celebrated Friday night and into Saturday morning as the European Union marked the largest expansion in its history.

France issued a stamp marking the EU enlargement.
Ten new members officially joined the EU at midnight CET (2200 GMT).

At the Italian-Slovenian border, European Commission President Romano Prodi presided over a reunification ceremony in the Italian town of Gorizia and the Slovenian town of Nova Goricia, divided by an iron fence since the end of World War II.

Prodi said, in Italian, "Today's enlargement is the fifth and the largest in the history of the union and I am convinced that it will not be the last. Other European countries and nations will decide to join our undertaking until the whole continent is unified in peace and democracy," Reuters reported.

Gala music concerts in Berlin and Warsaw and a midnight firework display in Malta's Valletta harbor will be screened live in more than 30 countries.

Popular performers from the new member states will be features in a two-hour show linking the Berliner Konzerthaus and an open air stage in Warsaw.

In Malta, part of a new opera by former Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters will be performed for the first time.

The work, called "Ca Ira (It Will be Fine)," is in English and French and involves an 84-piece orchestra, three soloists and an adult and children's choir.

Elsewhere, embassies, ministries and municipalities in new and old member states will mark the event with parties and concerts.

On Saturday, the leaders of all 25 EU countries will gather for a largely ceremonial summit in Dublin. The Republic of Ireland currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.

Amid the official pomp and ceremony, some east Europeans plan more unorthodox ways of celebrating the expansion.

Lithuanians will switch on lights soon after darkness to make their country glow in satellite photos of Europe, while Hungarians will dump their unwanted belongings in a pile at a central Budapest square, Reuters reported.

In Estonia, 20,000 volunteers will begin planting a million trees, and Czechs and their German neighbors will create artificial rainbows bridging "West" and "East" using water cannon and floodlights.

On the eve of the celebrations, Prodi declared that the divisions of the Cold War had been removed once and for all.

"We are bringing into the EU family 10 new member states and 75 million new EU citizens," the UK Press Association quoted Prodi as saying.

"Five decades after our great project of European integration began, we are celebrating the fact that Europeans are no longer kept apart by artificial ideological barriers.

"We share the same destiny and we are stronger when we act together. I urge all Europeans to join in celebrations of this astonishing achievement."

The commission is spending about 6 million euros ($7 million) on the enlargement celebrations.

The EU began with six member states, becoming nine in 1973 with the arrival of the UK, Ireland and Denmark.

Greece followed in 1981, and Portugal and Spain in 1986. Austria, Sweden and Finland made in 15 in 1995.

The 10 joining Saturday are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta.

This expansion will turn the EU into the world's largest free trade area with 450 million citizens and will move its border some 1,000 km (620 miles) east to the frontiers of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

"May 1 will be a milestone in the history of Europe," EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said.

"It is Europe's response to the end of the Cold War and an opportunity to heal the wounds of the past, wounds of war and dictatorship," Reuters quoted Verheugen as saying in Warsaw.

The enlargement crowns efforts by Poland and Germany to overcome the past. They are the largest old and new members of the EU, with about 80 million and 40 million citizens respectively.

Analysts say the success of the enlargement depends to a large extent on how well the neighbors get along -- a point that will be highlighted when German President Johannes Rau addresses the Polish parliament on Friday.

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