Copenhagen, 16 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union and 10 countries mainly from Central and Eastern Europe jointly approved on 13 December the biggest enlargement in the bloc's history. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are expected to sign their accession treaties in the spring of next year and join the bloc on 1 May 2004.
The decision is still subject to endorsement by the parliaments of the 15 current EU member states.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who presided over 12 hours of grueling negotiations with the candidate countries, said the enlargement would replace decades of division with a common vision of a united Europe. "To our new members, I say warmly: Welcome to our family. Our new Europe is born," Rasmussen said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the unprecedented expansion eastward into the former Soviet bloc would turn the EU into a completely different institution. "This is an extraordinary moment in Europe's history. There are decisions of enormous importance that we've taken, which expand and extend the boundaries of Europe, make Europe into a different institution, make it into, indeed, a different union altogether," Blair said.
The expansion deal was clinched after Poland and the other nine candidates were awarded a slightly increased financial offer from the EU to ease their entry into the union. The cost of the deal for the current EU states between 2004 and 2006 stands at 40.8 billion euros ($41.8 billion), 15 billion of which it will receive back in budget contributions from the new members.
Rasmussen said the negotiations, which saw numerous rejections of the initial EU offer by Poland, were at times "so difficult that sometimes one could begin to doubt." The negotiating centered on demands by Poland and other new states for agricultural subsidies from Brussels more on a par with what current EU member states receive, something the current states said they could not afford to fund.
The 15 current EU member states and the 10 new members also signed a declaration supporting Bulgaria's and Romania's EU entry in 2007. The summit conclusions also endorse the recent European Commission proposal that pre-accession aid to both countries be increased "significantly" in 2004-2006.
Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said the EU will keep its doors open to its "friends in the Balkans." The EU has said since 2000 that all of the western Balkan countries are "potential members" of the bloc.
Also in Copenhagen, EU leaders agreed to decide in December 2004 whether Turkey is ready to begin EU membership negotiations. Turkey had sought a date in 2003.
The EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, warned Turkey after the summit that the European Commission will want to see a "proven track record" of reform, adding that passing legislation was not enough. He said he is confident that the new Turkish government is "fully aware" of the need to "change the existing realities of torture and political prisoners."