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IN THE NEWS - European Union Welcomes Ten New Members - 2004-05-01

Broadcast: May 1, 2004

This is John Dryden with In the News, in VOA Special English.

The European Union now has twenty-five members instead of fifteen. Among the new E-U countries are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. So are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.

Ireland currently holds the E-U presidency, and organized the welcoming ceremonies on Saturday in Dublin. Negotiations for entry began six years ago.

The European Union began in nineteen-fifty as a trade and economic group. The first six members were Germany, France, Italy the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Later, Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and Portugal joined. The other current members are Spain, Austria, Sweden and Finland.

The group now deals with such issues as human rights, environmental protection and job creation. E-U members have been struggling to write a constitution.

The current expansion is the largest yet and creates a single market of four-hundred-fifty-million people. The new members will receive financial help.

Supporters of enlargement say call this a historic chance to unite Europe. They say it will make Europe safer. And they say it could ease expected labor shortages in E-U markets.

But some officials say it will be difficult for twenty-five countries with different histories and cultures to work together. Eight of the new members formerly had Communist governments. Most have only limited experience with democratic systems and market economies.

The ten new members are much poorer than the current ones. Their membership will add only about five percent to E-U production.

The new members are angry at restrictions placed on the movement of workers to wealthier E-U countries. Wealthy countries worry about foreigners looking for jobs and public assistance.

Labor unions and others in countries like Germany with high labor costs worry about job losses. They fear that employers will move jobs to countries where wages are a lot lower.

Wealthier countries are also not happy to have to share their E-U farm support payments. The new members want guarantees they will get their fair share. Their local industries worry about the competition they will now face from other E-U countries.

Romania and Bulgaria are expected to join the European Union in two-thousand-seven. Turkey has attempted for years to join. The issue has divided Europeans. French President Jacques Chirac said this week that Turkey is not ready yet.

Mister Chirac said Turkey probably will not be ready to join for at least ten years. He said Turkey needs to do more to improve its human rights and justice system before it can meet the conditions for membership.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is John Dryden.