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Last Updated: Monday, 1 January 2007, 17:39 GMT
Romanians optimistic on entry to EU
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Bucharest

Romanian Gypsies ride in an oxen-pulled cart in Cazanesti, Romania
Poverty is still endemic in rural Romania
The New Year was welcomed on the streets of Bucharest in traditional style, with young boys cracking whips to chase away the evils of the past and ringing in the new with their bells.

It followed huge street parties in the capital Bucharest and across the country, as Romania achieved its long cherished goal to join the European Union.

With its 22 million people Romania will become the EU's seventh biggest country but also one of the poorest.

Yet while Romanians and Bulgarians are joining Europe as the poor relations, their economies are growing fast and they have great hopes for the future.

A country that was once the most oppressive communist dictatorship in Europe is now hoping to become a regional power.

Most Romanians agree that EU entry is a huge chance for future generations.

"We are optimistic about the future of our country and I'm sure it will be a great time for us," said one Romanian in Bucharest.

"Probably I don't think it's so good. We will have a lot of prices that explode here," said another man.

"I think there's going to be a lot of opportunities. I think the new generation can do a lot," a third commented.

Cruel welcome

From New Year's Day Romanians can travel freely across Europe.

But despite having one of the most dynamic economies in Europe, more than two million have already left - for Spain, Italy and other EU countries - driven by the low wages and miserable conditions in the countryside where almost half the population lives.

Romanians will not be entitled to work in most western European countries yet.

They are also facing food export bans and, in an unprecedented move, strict monitoring to ensure they crack down further on corruption and organised crime.

It is a cruel welcome for the most enthusiastic of Europeans.

Many hope EU membership will provide the crucial incentive for Romania to fight poverty and deep-rooted corruption, but it will take at least 20 years before it closes the gap with its partners in western Europe.

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