The European Union gained two more member states on 01 January 2007 with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, making a historic New Year for the two nations. Huge celebrations were held in both countries to usher in a new chapter in their history, seventeen years after the fall of communism.
The European Union now has 27 member states and over half a billion people, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea.
Bulgaria and Romania applied for EU membership in 1995 and began formal accession talks in February 2000. They missed out on the big expansion of 2004, however, after being told they were not ready.
All that is in the past now, as huge celebrations were held in both the Romanian capital of Bucharest and the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said 01 January 2007 will go down as one of the most important dates in the nation's history.
"It was hard, but we arrived at the end of the road. It is the road of our future. It is the road of our joy," said Romania's President Traian Basescu.
"But let's make it clear, our future success as a nation depends not on European funds and resources, but on our own work," he added.
In the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said that Britain stands to benefit from the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, in response to fears of overwhelming immigration. The accession of Eastern European countries in 2004 brought many more migrants than expected.
"The journey has transformed both countries creating opportunities not just for their citizens, but for everyone in the EU and in Britain," she said.
"In the last few years economic growth in both countries has been rapid and UK trade has boomed alongside it. These two countries will bring their own particular contributions to the EU."
Spain is reported to have more than a half a million illegal migrant Romanians contributing to vast labor shortages in that country. 200,000 Romanians are currently registered as legal immigrants, and the Spanish government has shown an enthusiastic welcome to the migrants of the new EU-27 nations. The country has seen very significant economic gain as a result of the immigrant labor.
However, corruption and organized crime are still a concern in both countries, a concern experienced in the entire region, and Brussels will be monitoring them closely. It is felt that, with growing economies and aid from the European Union, there is hope for the future.
"Today a dream came true, a dream of generations of Bulgarians who have always wanted to live together with the free European peoples in peace and prosperity," Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said.
Most citizens of both countries feel the same sentiment.
"Until today when I have gone to other countries, every waitress, every salesman turned up his nose when hearing I come from Romania," said Sergiu Radu, a salesman.
"I hope this means an end to that shame and frustration."
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• Spain may already have 600,000 illegal Romanians
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