Blue-and-gold EU flags fluttered across Bucharest and fireworks thundered through the sky at midnight as Romania, along with southern neighbour Bulgaria, became the latest countries to join the European Union.
"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," Romanian President Traian Basescu said, prompting cheers from a crowd of tens of thousands of revelers packed into University Square. "We arrived in Europe. Welcome to Europe," Basescu said from a stage, where he was joined by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, government ministers and European foreign ministers. Romania and Bulgaria bring 30 million new members to the union, and expand the number of member nations in the bloc to 27. "Citizens of Bucharest. Welcome to the EU," Rehn said in both Romanian and English. The foreign ministers of Germany, Denmark, Austria and Hungary wished Romanian citizens a Happy New Year. Officials were due to fly later on Monday to Bulgaria for celebrations there.
"Entering the European Union, we are assured peace and prosperity. This is an enormous chance for new generations," Basescu said as the clock ticked down to midnight. He later waved a huge Romanian flag and said he hoped Romanians would retain their national identity.