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20th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement: the birth of a new era

20th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement: the birth of a new era

On 24 April, EU and Member States representatives, and young people who were born in 2004, celebrated 20 years of EU enlargement. President von der Leyen highlighted the many benefits that EU membership brought to the then-new Member States, while also underlining the many advantages that the Union itself drew from this enlargement.

On 1 May 2004, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia all joined the EU. In her speech, President von der Leyen described this important day as the fulfillment of Europe’s promise. Since the accession, the economies of the then-new Member States have boomed, their agricultural production has tripled, and their unemployment rates have been cut by half.

This benefit was all but one-sided. At the same time, “people and companies across Europe have enjoyed new opportunities to study and work, export and invest in a wider Union,” thanks to the new members that joined the European family in 2004, which also strengthened Europe’s response to the geopolitical challenges we face.

President von der Leyen also commended her predecessor, former President Prodi, on his vision that the 2004 enlargement would not be the last one. She highlighted that “since then, three more countries have joined our Union” and that “today, the desire to unite Europe and complete our Union is more important than ever before”.

“The Western Balkans is moving ever closer to us. We took the historic decision to launch negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, while the people of Georgia make no secret of their European dreams”, the President continued.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has further created a new sense of urgency to unite our European family. The military assistance from the United States and the European Union “is an encouragement for us to do even more”. “For Europe to win the future – just as it did 20 years ago – Ukraine must win”, she underlined.

In the spirit of this 20th anniversary of the 2004 enlargement, President von der Leyen called on the EU to “stay ambitious on enlargement and reform. This is how we will make good on that European promise once again.”

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