Date: May 14, 2003
On 16 April, the representatives of the 15 EU Member States and the 10 candidate countries signed the Accession treaty in Athens, paving the way for Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia to become full members of the EU as of 1 May 2004. Formal accession is now to be confirmed by a series of referenda. Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Lithuania have all registered yes votes in recent weeks and the remaining countries will all have to ratify the treaty by popular vote except Cyprus. Similarly, the Treaty needs also to be ratified by the current EU members.
EU territory will increase by almost one quarter and its population by one fifth. Enlarged EU will become with its 450 million population the world's biggest trading bloc.
The next enlargement is now hoped to take place in 2007 with Bulgaria and Romania joining. The chances that Turkey will become an EU Member have significantly slimmed after the failure of the UN sponsored negotiation talks over the Cyprus issue a few weeks ago, resulting in only the Greek part of the island joining the EU in May 2004. It is expected that Cyprus will block any Turkey's attempts to become EU's full member.
The largest enlargement in the history of the EU is also expected to become the most challenging one.
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