Ursula von der Leyen — President of the European Commission
Ursula von der Leyen — President of the European Commission

Celebrating 20 years of European Union enlargement

The European Union (EU) on May 1, 2024 celebrated 20 years of its enlargement, with the over 450 million Europeans enjoying freedom of movement across a larger union. 


Enlargement of the union has been a source of prosperity for all, as people living in countries that joined the union in 2004 have seen a remarkable economic growth while those living in countries that were already members of the EU have also experienced greater growth and prosperity.

The enlargement   

On May 1, 2004, the citizens of Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became citizens of the EU and with the great enlargement, the EU has become one of the world’s largest single markets which has witnessed growth and prosperity.

Since 2004, EU states have made significant progress together, setting high standards for environmental and health protection, consumer rights and product safety, among others. Today, people in the EU are benefiting from better health care, higher quality products and cleaner cities.

The pace of change across the EU over the past two decades has been remarkable. It was not always easy. Despite some challenges, both in Europe and globally, enlargement has been one of our biggest success stories.

The financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and most recently the situation in Gaza have at times tested its unity, but together the EU has managed to work out a response and to deliver. 

Over the past 20 years, continental-scale modern infrastructure and connections have been built across the 27 Member States, thanks to EU investments and funds. European society has benefited from more innovations, public and private investments, the free movement of goods, services, capital and people as well as higher standards and greater opportunities.

Rapid change

The history of the EU has been marked by periods of rapid change, followed by periods of uncertainty as European integration has been an unpredictable process. The 'European Union' was officially created by a treaty, which entered into force on November 1, 1993 and the Treaty signed in Maastricht in the Netherlands became a major milestone, setting clear rules for the future single currency as well as for foreign and security policy and closer cooperation in justice and home affairs. 

Since then citizens have stronger rights and freedoms while democracy and the rule of law have been reinforced, despite being tested at times. Opportunities for both people and businesses have grown. 

All have witnessed  the European economic success story, the growth in the lives of Europeans in the past 20 years, with 26 million new jobs created across the EU, including 6 million jobs in the 10 new countries. Enlargement has provided people and businesses with more opportunities and choices. This is the European economic success story. 

Growth of Industry

From the Polish electronics business to the German car manufacturing sector, industry has grown due to the economies of scale offered by an enlarged single market. European industry has gained greater access to key inputs such as critical raw materials. Companies can now easily source copper in Cyprus, cobalt in Czechia, rare earths in Lithuania and nickel in Slovakia.

And more opportunities for businesses mean better choice for consumers. Thanks to the different farming traditions, crops and livestock of the 10 countries that joined, Europeans can now enjoy a wider range of high-quality foods, drinks and agricultural products. 

Over the past 20 years, our investments in highways, pipelines, public transport, connectivity, data centres and cross-border infrastructure have brought Europeans closer together and made the European Union a better place to live and work. 

The union is taking things further with NextGenerationEU which is worth more than €800 billion, it is funding hundreds of projects that will deliver real results for citizens, from offshore wind farms to electric trains and from top-notch digital services to world-class medical centres.  
Enlargement is also an investment in security as EU countries are ramping up defence capabilities to keep Europeans safe and at peace and have recorded numerous research breakthroughs and creative innovations in disease prevention and cancer treatment for instance.

Thanks to greater cooperation among European scientists and EU financial support, they are researching more, advancing further and are now pooling its skills and resources to achieve scientific breakthroughs in disease prevention and cancer treatments, so that people have healthier and better lives. 

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, on April 24, 2024 said, "It was not just the birth of a larger Union; it was the birth of a new era. It was a night of promise, because Europe is a promise: the promise that all Europeans can be masters of their own destiny. The promise of freedom and stability, peace and prosperity. And in the twenty years that followed, this promise has been fulfilled."


The European project was an attempt to overcome the nationalist conflicts of the first half of the 20th century, especially the rivalry between Germany and France that had contributed to both world wars. 

After 1945, there was a strong will to ensure that the war between Germany and France could never again occur. This led to a series of schemes that culminated in the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, which eventually became the EU.

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