The European Union has sealed an historic deal at a summit in Copenhagen to admit eight former communist countries and two Mediterranean islands by mid-2004 in its biggest expansion ever. The agreement came after years of intricate negotiations and two days of tense bargaining over the financial terms under which the new members would join the union.
EU leaders are hailing the accord reached at the Copenhagen summit as a European dream come true. They say the EU's move to incorporate its ten new members reunites the continent after decades of conflict and Cold War division.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the meeting's host, called the summit "a truly historic occasion" and said it will be a monument to what he described as a promising new era of a whole and undivided Europe.
"We have put decades of division of Europe firmly behind us," he emphasized. "We have finally closed the bloody chapters of the Cold War and two world wars devastating Europe and its people. We have replaced them with a clear and common vision of an integrated Europe, a vision of a Europe based on common values, human rights and a free market economy, of unity with respect for all our diversity."
The deal came after Poland, the biggest and most demanding candidate for membership, accepted a financial package that will ease its budget squeeze without substantially raising the cost of the EU's enlargement to the current 15 member states.
In addition, the EU appeased Turkish anger at not being given a firm date for Ankara to begin its own accession talks by inserting in its final communiqué a phrase saying Turkey will be able to start those negotiations without further delay as soon as it meets the EU's membership criteria in a review scheduled for December 2004.
That opened the way for Turkey to end its veto on granting the EU's fledgling rapid reaction force access to NATO assets such as planning, intelligence and airlift capabilities. The EU will now be able to carry out its own peacekeeping activities in the Balkans.
The head of the EU's executive commission, Romano Prodi, said the bloc wants Balkan nations to eventually join the union, too. But he says the time has now come for Europeans to think about where their continent's borders end. And in a veiled reference to U.S. lobbying on Turkey's behalf, Mr. Prodi said the union will continue to resist pressure from the outside as to who is invited to join the bloc. That, he said, is a decision for Europeans alone.