Quite a lot has been written about it already. Yesterday nine new countries, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became part of the Schengen area. Internal controls at land and sea borders were lifted, and the airports will follow shortly. The people of these new member states became equal EU citizens in an area of free movement consisting of 24 countries.
A year ago Slovenia was the first new member state to introduce the euro currency, and at the beginning of 2008 the country will be the first of the new members at the helm of the European Union, responsible for the Council presidency. At the same time Malta and Cyprus are going to become eurozone countries. New candidates are striving to achieve the criteria.
The Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union (OJ 14 December 2007, C 303/1) is set to become legally binding along with the Treaty of Lisbon (OJ 17 December 2007, C 306/1). This manifestation of shared European values is going to unite all but two member states, Poland and Great Britain.
The new Polish government looks set to become a constructive force within the European Union. It has not been able to renounce the opt-out from the Charter yet, because it needs the support of the populist and moral conservative opposition to secure ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. But in due course the values of the Charter may join all the countries save one.
Ten out of twelve new member states are already dual EU and NATO members. Only Cyprus and Malta joined the group of militarily uncommitted (Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden). Sooner or later the European Union should be able to establish a common defence (democratically accountable) strengthened by the intergovernmental transatlantic NATO tie.
Increasingly the core areas of deeper European integration – Schengen, the euro, the Charter, and prospectively defence – attract new members. Ever more the advance groups are made up of both old and new member states. Progressively the distinctions between old and new are erased.
European Commission: Enlargement of the Schengen area: achieving the European goal of free movement of persons; Press release, 20 december 2007; http://europa.eu
European Commission: Background on Schengen enlargement; Memo, 20 December 2007; http://europa.eu
European Commission: Sixth report on practical preparations for the euro: countdown for Cyprus and Malta; Press release, 27 November 2007; http://europa.eu
Nato: NATO Member Countries; http://www.nato.int