The Enlargement of the European Union - an opportunity seized by Austria
With the accession of ten states in the Central and Eastern European and Mediterranean regions the European Union saw a historic enlargement in 2004: on 1 May 2004 Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia joined the European Union. This fifth round of EU enlargement was completed on 1 January 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania became members of the Union.
Austria has welcomed and supported this process as another landmark step in the historic process of European integration. Now that this latest round of enlargement has been completed the European Union is home to almost 500 million people. As the world’s strongest trading power with a powerful common currency and the most important donor of development aid and humanitarian assistance, the enlarged EU also plays an increasingly important political role in the world.
It is through enlargement that Austria has moved from the periphery of Europe and regained its place at the very heart of the continent. It has also offered Austria the opportunity to create around itself an area of peace, security and prosperity - a process in which the Central European accession countries have been our natural partners. With five of these countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, Austria initiated the Regional Partnership in 2001. This intensified political, economic and cultural cooperation also contributes to increasing Austria’s weight and voice within the EU.
Austrian business recognised the opportunities opening up in the new markets at an early stage and was quick to seize them. Austria’s close economic ties, particularly with its Central and Eastern European neighbours Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia contribute substantially to strengthening the Austrian economy. Today, for instance, our neighbour Slovenia with its two million inhabitants imports more Austrian products than China, Japan or Russia together. Austria is the leading foreign investor in both Bulgaria and Romania. These developments have been accompanied by the creation of ten thousands of jobs in Austria. Enlargement also ensures the continuation of this successful development particularly in economically difficult times.In an enlarged Europe, however, there is also a need to consider our shared intellectual and cultural heritage. Thus the Platform "Culture - Central Europe" was set up by the Regional Partnership to re(discover) and cultivate the cultural roots Austria shares with the Central European countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.