10 New Nations Join European Union
ATHENS, Greece - In the heart of the city that gave birth to European democracy, leaders of 25 nations signed treaties Wednesday sweeping away the 20th century's Iron Curtain divide.
Meeting in the shadow of the ancient Acropolis, 10 nations committed to joining the European Union. The new members include eight former Communist countries cut off from their Western neighbors until little more than a decade ago.
"With this step, the union is finally overcoming the division of the European continent into East and West," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said. "The new and bigger union will ... find a place in the world as a Europe of peace, solidarity and democracy."
But the ceremony was marred by protests against the war in Iraq, which has deeply divided the 15 current EU members. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators crowded the streets near the signing ceremony in the ancient Athens Agora.
What began as a largely peaceful rally turned violent when several hundred protesters broke away, hurling gasoline bombs at police and smashing storefronts. They also set fire to a bank and threw rocks at the British Embassy.
Police responded by firing tear gas and chasing hooded protesters though Athens' narrow streets.
Police feared the rallies could turn violent as protesters vented their anger at the presence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other pro-war leaders, such as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The treaty signing was held at the Agora's Stoa of Attalos, a massive colonnaded monument at the foot of the Acropolis that was dedicated by King Attalos of Pergamon around 150 BC.
applicants are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta. They will join formally on May 1, 2004, pending ratification of the treaties by referendums and parliament votes.
The new members, however, immediately will take their seats as observers in the regular meetings that set EU policy.
The 10 joining nations will bring 75 million people into the EU — raising its population to 450 million. The newcomers' wealth ranges from barely 29 percent of the EU average in Lithuania to 85 percent in Cyprus.
Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and the other existing EU leaders are using the summit as an opportunity to present a common front on how to help postwar Iraq.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined the EU leaders, who have signaled their support for a strong U.N. role in rebuilding Iraq despite doubts from the United States.
"There is agreement, that in principle the United Nations must have a key role," Blair said Tuesday after meeting Schroeder.
Blair also met with Chirac on the summit sidelines, a meeting that French officials said helped London and Paris heal strained relations.
Before the treaty signing, the leaders discussed the yearlong effort to draft an EU constitution that will set out how the bloc functions after its expansion.
They agreed that a new position should be created to better coordinate EU foreign policy, but remained split over how to share power between national governments and the EU's central institutions.
Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing said the 105-member European convention he chairs will present a draft constitutional text in June. It will be approved by EU leaders at their midyear summit in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki.
- VICTORIA BECKHAM
- SARAJEVO - BiH
- Mervana Jugić-Salkić ( 24-5 )