Address by Mr Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach and President of the European Council, to the Conference on EU enlargement.
Dublin Castle, 1 May 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted and honoured to be here today as President-in-Office of the European Council. I am joined by the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, and the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. We are here together as representatives of the main institutions of the European Union to mark a hugely significant moment in Europe's history.
We are welcoming ten new Member States into the European Union.
Today marks a new beginning for Europeans.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many millions of people across Europe for whom this day - the first of May 2004 - is a day of hope and opportunity.
To the people of Europe who are joining us today in the European Union, I extend the hand of friendship.
It was your democratic choice and your own efforts that made this day happen. Today marks the triumph of your determination and perseverance over the legacy of history.
Over the past years, you have been knocking on the door of Europe's biggest family. Today, we open it and in the great Irish tradition, bid you a "céad míle fáilte" - a hundred, thousand welcomes.
We feel honoured that you are joining us. We feel pride that the European Union has attracted, and continues to attract, new members. Enlargement is a testament to the European Union's success.
Our Union will change with twenty-five members. That is inevitable. But that change will be for the better. The Union has been strengthened and enhanced by the contributions of each of its current members. Ten more members will enhance and strengthen the Union that much more.
We look forward to the unique contributions that the new members will make to the European Union. Each of us brings our own culture. We bring a particular history and a unique vision.
The sheer range and scale of our historical experience and our different perspectives are enormous assets. With these assets, we can promote the values of the European Union together. Working together will benefit us all. And, what is more, working together we will help to reinforce Europe as an area united in peace and stability, acting as a force for good in the world.
To the new Member States, I want to stress that the European Union poses no threat to your uniqueness. On the contrary. The Union enables us to celebrate our diversity. At the same time, working together, we can succeed for all the people of Europe.
Our first major task together will be to agree a new Constitutional Treaty. In March, we decided to reach agreement, at the latest, by the June European Council meeting. President Cox and President Prodi share my hope that agreement will be achieved at the earliest possible opportunity.
Although there are significant issues to be resolved in the negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty, there are very large parts of it that are agreed. On the more difficult and sensitive issues which remain, I firmly believe a way forward can be found with the necessary political will.
The Constitutional Treaty will help to ensure that the new needs and circumstances of the European Union are reflected in its basic law. It will improve the foundations for democratic discourse in the European Union. It will build on the success of the European Union and it will make the work of the Union more accessible and effective.
And there remain other challenges. We will have to continue our work to protect our citizens from the scourge of terrorism. We must work harder to create jobs and growth. And many outside the European Union look to us to assist them in building the peace and prosperity we enjoy. There is indeed much work to be done.
But for now, we pause to reflect - and to celebrate!
Later today, Presidents Cox, Prodi and I will join the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and the Heads of State or Government of all the European Union and candidate countries. We will collectively and formally mark the enlargement of the European Union with a flag raising ceremony. At that ceremony, Séamus Heaney, Ireland's nobel laureate, will read a poem he has specially written to mark the occasion.
We are hosting this ceremony because we believe that it is important for the democratic leaders of Europe to acknowledge what the European Union has achieved for the people of Europe.
We believe that it is important to involve as many people as possible in our celebrations. We have therefore made every effort to give this day a real local and community feel.
As well as in Dublin, towns across Ireland have organised programmes of events to celebrate the cultures of the new Member States with a wide range of artistic talent. Irish artists too, have travelled to participate in similar events organised in each of the ten countries.
For Europe, today marks the closure of one chapter and the opening of another new and exciting chapter in its long history.
The European Union that the new Member States are joining has been a resounding success. It has delivered prosperity for its people by providing a framework within which economies can grow and people thrive. It has promoted democracy and equality and tackled poverty and exclusion. Now we must ensure that the Union continues to achieve success for its citizens into the future.