Bulgaria, Romania Join EU; 'Historic' Move Wins Few Plaudits from within Bloc

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Byline: Gareth Harding, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BRUSSELS - The admission today of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union - boosting the bloc's membership to 27 nations and almost half a billion people - should be a moment for self-congratulatory celebration. But few outside of Bulgaria, Romania and the Brussels beltway are in a mood to toast the accession of the former communist states.

With today's expansion, the EU gains almost 30 million new citizens and sees its borders stretched eastward to the Black Sea. The new countries already are new NATO members, helping to project stability in a volatile region. And their accession 17 years after they shrugged off more than four decades of communist rule is seen by some as the final nail in the coffin of the Cold War.

"This is a historic decision," said the president of the center-right European People's Party, Wilfried Martens, after the two states received the green light to join the EU last month.

"After the accession in 2004 of 10 countries from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area, the EU is now completing the reunification of the European continent," he said.

Others supporters vaunt the geostrategic benefits of Bulgaria and Romania's entry.

Mircea Geoana, chairman of the Romanian Senate's foreign-affairs committee, told The Washington Times: "As size does indeed matter in international politics, a European Union aiming at the stature of a genuine global power should welcome the accession of Romania, which is the EU member with the longest eastern border and - together with Poland and the [United Kingdom] - one of the members with very close relations to the United States."

At the European Commission's Brussels headquarters a huge banner has hung for weeks welcoming Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union. The executive body even staged a rock concert in mid-December during which the two countries were added to a giant gingerbread map of the union.

But among ordinary citizens of the existing EU counties, especially the older and richer nations of Western Europe, there is little enthusiasm for the latest expansion.

"There is a striking difference between this enlargement and the festivities surrounding the 2004 expansion," says Lucia Montanaro-Jankovski, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center think tank in Brussels.

"It has been difficult to persuade EU citizens of the benefits of Bulgaria and Romania's accession because the two countries are entering the union during a climate of Euro-skepticism and enlargement fatigue. There is a feeling the 10 countries that joined in 2004 haven't been fully digested, and there are questions about how many more countries the EU can absorb with its current rulebook."

Expansion opposition

The enlargement of the EU to take in poorer countries on its southern and eastern fringes is generally considered to be the union's biggest success story, helping to cement democracy and bring prosperity to countries emerging from authoritarian rule.

But while the addition of Malta, Cyprus and eight former communist countries in central Europe was viewed as epoch-making by Europe's political elites, it was viewed more coolly by ordinary citizens who blame the "big bang" expansion for higher levels of immigration and unemployment.

The sense of an enlargement fatigue is borne out by a recent European Commission opinion poll that shows opponents of further EU expansion almost equaling the number of supporters. In two of the union's largest countries - France and Germany - only a third of voters support further

enlargement.

EU leaders also expressed their frostiness toward hastily admitting new members at their quarterly summit in Brussels last month. In a clear nod to Bulgaria and Romania, which many EU officials think are not ready to join the union, heads of state agreed not to give would-be members an entry date until they have applied all the bloc's stringent rules. …