The leaders of 15 EU Member States and 10 future members signed a historic Accession Treaty at a ceremony in Athens on 16 April.
The membership of the EU will increase from the current 15 to 25 in 2004, when Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia are due to become members.
From the moment of signing, the 10 future members will gain observer status in the European Union, which gives them the right of attending Council meetings and having MEP observers in the European Parliament until the time of accession.
The accession treaty will come into force when ratified by the national parliaments of the current and new member states. The accession is due to take place in May 2004.
According to the Athens declaration, adopted at the meeting, “this Union represents our will to embark on a new future based on co-operation, respect for diversity and mutual understanding”. Some of the statements of prominent European leaders from the PES:
T ony Blair, the UK Prime Minister: "We welcome those countries from the east of Europe joining the European Union who struggled so long and so hard for their freedom from dictatorship and from repression."
Costas Simitis, the Greek Prime Minister: "This is a historic day because we are overcoming the divisions of a continent that was once divided into two camps, east and west. This is an achievement which creates new obligations on us to look to the future with optimism and creativity."
Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor: "Germany started the war which caused the rift we're finally ending. With this step, the union is finally overcoming the division of the European continent into East and West. The new and bigger union will find a place in the world as a Europe of peace, solidarity and democracy."
Leszek Miller, the Prime Minister of Poland: "I believe this is a genuine breakthrough, a turning point in our history. We will be able to accomplish our dreams and also make possible the dreams of our children and grandchildren."