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Balkan duo celebrate entry with fireworks, street parties January 3, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Lifestyle.
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Millions rejoice in Romania and Bulgaria on countries’ first day in the EU

Millions of Romanians and Bulgarians reveled in their first day as citizens of the European Union yesterday, after a night of fireworks and street parties celebrating their countries’ entry into the bloc. Deemed too politically and economically backward for membership during the EU’s first eastward expansion in 2004, the Black Sea neighbors were relieved to join in what political analysts say would be the last enlargement this decade.

The accession of the poor, ex-communist duo raises the EU’s membership to 27 states, almost half of them former Eastern bloc countries cut off from the West by the Iron Curtain until 1989.

“Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to the EU completes our historic fifth round of enlargement, which peacefully reunified Western and Eastern Europe,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement of congratulations.

Romania and Bulgaria will together boost the EU’s population by 30 million, to 490 million, but will add just 1 percent to its economic output. Fearing new waves of immigration, like one that followed the 2004 expansion, and crime could drive citizens out of jobs and undermine society, some EU capitals want accession hopefuls Turkey and the Western Balkans to wait much longer to enter.

Braving freezing temperatures, groups of Romanians and Bulgarians crossed newly opened borders shortly after midnight to visit neighboring towns in Hungary and Greece, and across the Danube, until now kept distant by lengthy passport controls. In the Romanian port of Sulina, nicknamed “Europolis” in the 19th century, ships sounded sirens for half an hour and people danced along the Danube where it empties into the Black Sea.

“It was a difficult road… Now we are taking a new path, a path to victory and happiness,” Romanian President Traian Basescu told a crowd of 40,000 in the capital Bucharest.

In Sofia, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said membership meant Bulgaria could depend on full EU solidarity as it tries to free five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya for infecting hundreds of children with HIV. Bulgaria and its allies say the verdicts are a miscarriage of justice.

“You have our full support,” Rehn told a packed concert hall in Sofia. “You are not alone. You are with the European Union.”

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