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New EU members prepare to party December 31, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture, Media.

Romania and Bulgaria are getting ready to celebrate their entry into the European Union at midnight with rock music and traditional dancing. Thousands are expected to attend the concerts in the countries’ capitals.

Several European leaders will join in a folk dance in Bucharest, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will give a speech in Sofia. From 1 January the EU will have 27 members, up from to 15 three years ago, and a population of half a billion.

The accession of the two new countries comes amid falling enthusiasm in Europe for the bloc’s continuing expansion. A Eurobarometer poll in autumn only 41% of people in the 15 states that were part of the EU before 2004 supporting further enlargement. The two new countries will be subject to strict monitoring after they join, to ensure they make more progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime. They will face export bans on certain foods, and Bulgaria has been warned that 55 of its aircraft could be grounded unless they reach EU safety standards.

Pyramid of light > Analysts say there is a risk that EU aid will be mis-spent, or just not taken up because the countries’ institutions are too disorganised.

The Bulgarian economy still lacks a certain competitiveness > Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev 

There are also fears that the countries’ economies will fail to compete with the rest of the EU’s once trade barriers come down. “The Bulgarian economy still lacks a certain competitiveness,” Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev has admitted. But both countries have big plans for celebrations. Bucharest mayor Adriean Vidreanu has promised “a traditional party that Romanians will never forget”.

European Enlargement Commissioner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are among the politicians joining hands for a traditional circle dance in the city.

In Sofia, a pyramid of light will illuminate the sky, with rays emanating from the city’s Orthodox cathedral, its Armenian church, a synagogue, a mosque and another church.

Immigration fears > One Romanian factory has been working flat out sewing European flags for the celebrations. Both Bulgaria and Romania are much poorer than the rest of the EU, with GDP per capita of about 33% of the EU average, compared with 50% in Poland. Some Western European member states fear a flood of new immigrants, but officials in both countries say most of those who wanted to work abroad have already left.

Most of the 15 older EU member states have put in place restrictions on the free movement of workers from the two new members – though Finland and Sweden are two exceptions. Most of the 10 newer member states, including Poland, say they will erect no barriers.

Bulgaria is due to close two reactors of its Kozloduy nuclear power station in the hours before joining the EU, one of the last remaining conditions of membership. Also on 1 January, Slovenia will become the first of the 10 states which joined the EU in 2004 to adopt the European currency, the euro.

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