Churches celebrate as Romania and Bulgaria enter European Union

By staff writers
January 1, 2007

Churches joined enthusiastic 2007 New Year celebrations in Bulgarian and Romanian towns and cities earlier today – events which also marked the two countries’ entry into the expanding European Union.

Their accession will also have the effect of strengthening the Orthodox churches, according to analysis in the Greek VIMA newspaper. It says that Orthodox voices will be louder because both states have growing populations which boost its adherents.

But at the same time their entry will highlight divisions within Orthodox ranks, because the Romanian patriarchate is preparing to open its own office in Bucharest.

In an article for the paper, the from the Greek socialist party MP Mihalis Hrisohoidis (PASOK) adds that Greece has invested a lot in Bulgaria and Romania’s EU membership, and believes it will strengthen cooperation in the region.

British tabloid newspapers are among those who have printed scare stories about an “invasion” of new workers, and the UK government has introduced a licensing system to try to restrict incoming numbers – which were greater than predicted when Poland joined the Union.

Meanwhile, seventeen years after the fall of the former communist regimes, tens of thousands attended celebration concerts in the two capitals, Bucharest and Sofia, including many church members.

The accession of the two new countries means that the European Union now has 27 members and half a billion people in its combined populations. Geographically it stretches as far east as the Black Sea.

A founding aim of the Union is to promote peace and stability in a region of the world historically scarred by devastating division and warfare.

The question of whether Turkey, a secular nation with a large Muslim majority, will accede is still to be decided.

Supporters of the move say that, in spite of many problems, it will be an important signal that different civilizations and cultures can work together rather than clash.

But opponents, including hardliners among Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches, wish to preserve what they see as Europe’s ‘Christian heritage’. Others say that a plural identity is what is required nowadays.

The accession of Bulgaria and Romania comes amid falling enthusiasm in Europe for the bloc's continuing expansion, according to the BBC.

A recent Eurobarometer poll also suggested only 41 per cent of people in the 15 states that were part of the European Union before 2004 supported further enlargement.

The two new countries will now be subject to strict monitoring, to ensure they make more progress in the fight against corruption and crime. They also face export bans on certain foods, technical checks on aircraft, and migration restrictions.

But such details have not deterred the thousands celebrating on the streets today, as they welcome in what they hope will be a new ear of prosperity and purpose.

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