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EU: Ten Future Members Sign Accession Treaty

Athens, 16 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- European Union leaders say the EU accession treaty signed today by 10 candidate countries is a "new contract between our peoples." They made the remark in a declaration issued to mark the signing in the Greek capital, Athens.

The declaration said the enlarged EU represents a common determination to put an end to centuries of conflict and to transcend former divisions in Europe.

Leaders from the 10 mostly central and eastern European candidate states signed the treaty in a ceremony which took place below the historic Acropolis.

The leaders of the current 15 EU states also signed the pact. The candidate countries are set to join the EU in May 2004.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the treaty "a fundamental statement of unity here in Europe."

The treaty must still be approved by all current member states. Referenda on joining the bloc continue in candidate countries.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen stressed the importance of voters from candidate countries to participate in the referenda.

"I think it is very important to make it clear that the citizens in future member states must participate in these referenda because it is a decision for the whole century and for the generations to come."

Malta, Slovenia, and Hungary already have given approval to EU entry. The 10 future EU members are Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.