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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
EU takes major expansion step
Romano Prodi and Leszek Miller
EU leaders hailed the move to reunite a once divided continent
European leaders meeting in Athens have made history by signing a treaty on the largest expansion of the European Union yet.

The treaty cements plans for the fifth enlargement of the union since the creation of the six-member European Community in 1957.

Ten new members, eight of them from the former communist bloc, will formally join the EU in May 2004, if ratification goes according to plan, taking the number of EU states to 25.

This Union represents our will to embark on a new future based on co-operation, respect for diversity and mutual understanding
Athens Declaration

"It is only today that the Berlin Wall has truly fallen," said Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

As the signing ceremony took place in the shadow of the Acropolis, the birthplace of democracy, anti-war protesters threw petrol bombs at police, who replied with tear gas.

Several people were injured.

Czech Republic

The European leaders agreed an Athens Declaration, in which they expressed their determination to put an end to centuries of conflict on the European continent.

The leaders of four of the larger EU states - France, Germany, Spain and the UK - also tried to overcome their divisions on the war in Iraq.

The first two are anti-war while the second two are pro-war, but reports from Athens said they managed to agree on a two-part statement, which was was being circulated among EU members for approval.

In other developments:

  • UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said he and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had agreed on the importance of the role of the United Nations in Iraq, during their meeting in Athens;

    Today we open our arms to embrace these 75 million new European citizens
    European Commission President Romano Prodi

  • French President Jacques Chirac softened his earlier criticism of Eastern European states for their pro-US stance, calling on the new Europe to show solidarity with the "European family";

  • Mr Chirac was quoted as saying that France would be flexible in working with the US and British forces now running Iraq, after his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Blair since the war began;

  • The head of the European Convention drafting a new EU constitution, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, said a draft would be released at a 20 June summit in Greece despite his earlier calls for more time.

The Athens Declaration had been intended to mention the war in Iraq, but the phrase was dropped from the final text.

Policeman confronting unrest
Violence on the streets marred the optimistic mood of the summit
The declaration said the EU was committed to facing up to its global responsibilities, and that it would "support conflict prevention, promote justice, help secure peace and defend global security".

It added: "We are determined to work at all levels to tackle global terrorism and stem the weapons of mass destruction."

European Commission President Romano Prodi welcomed "75 million new European citizens" who are expected to join the EU next year.

"This is your home too now," he said.

"It is yours to cherish, to make yourselves at home in, to dream in, to adorn, to extend even further."

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said the EU's eastward expansion was "a debt that destiny is paying back".

"If only my father and mother were alive to see this," he added.

"It is the realisation of a dream."

The BBC's Stephen Sackur reports from Athens
"Recent divisions badly damaged the EU, now it must rise above them"

Clashes mar EU summit
16 Apr 03  |  Europe
In pictures: Athens unrest
16 Apr 03  |  Photo Gallery
Q&A: EU accession treaty
16 Apr 03  |  Europe
In quotes: EU's day in history
16 Apr 03  |  Europe
EU faces its Iraq demons
16 Apr 03  |  Europe
UK warns Europe over Iraq
16 Apr 03  |  Europe
Text: The Athens Declaration
17 Apr 03  |  Europe

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