Ten countries formally joined the European Union (EU) on May 2, 2004. The European Union promotes the political, economic, and social cooperation among its European members. Since Europe is made up of many relatively small countries, by banding together in a union, these countries reap the benefits of greater economic and political power.
This expansion of the EU, the largest in its history, is particularly historic because eight of the new members are former communist countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. They were part of the former Soviet bloc, behind what was then called the Iron Curtain. During the cold war, these Eastern European countries had little contact with the rest of Europe, and they were also significantly poorer than most of their Western European neighbors. To gain entry in the EU, the countries had to undergo years of rigorous economic, legal, and democratic reform.
The remaining two countries to join the EU in May were the Mediterranean island nations of Cyprus and Malta.
The fifteen member states before the May 1 expansion were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
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