An official website of the European Union. See all European Institutions
Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis
European Union Ambassador to the United States
At the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the 2004 European Union enlargement
Residence of the Ambassador of Poland to the United States
April 30th, 2018 – Washington D.C., USA
Dear Ambassador Piotr Wilczek,
Dear fellow Ambassadors,
Dear Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Fisher,
Dear colleagues, dear friends, from Europe, America, and beyond.
We're gathered here today to celebrate a landmark geopolitical achievement. Fifteen years ago, the European family became united, almost in its entirety. The 2004 European Union enlargement has been a giant step in the direction of a Europe whole and free.
Like in previous enlargements, the perspective of accessing the European Union has successfully supported the democratic transition and consolidation in the countries knocking at the door of the Euro-Atlantic Community. I should know, as I belong to one of those countries, Greece, under a dictatorship until 1974. This perspective has been a beacon of hope and an anchor of stability for countries from Central, Eastern and southern Europe who have joined the European Union in past decades.
We tend, sometimes, to underestimate what the European Union represents for Europeans and others living abroad, outside of our borders; for all our neighbours aspiring to liberty, equality, and economic opportunities; for countries around the world which are mired today in conflict and death and which look at the EU as a remarkable, a miraculous example of a region that came out of blood conflict and created the most peaceful and prosperous area in the world. We should not, ever, undervalue the symbolic power of how much Europe serves as a lighthouse for those looking for a better future.
The 2004 enlargement is definitely a success story. And I want to pause for a moment. Can you think back and remember that most of the countries which joined the EU in 2004 were still on the other side of the Iron Curtain less than 30 years ago? Do you realize how fast they have managed to join the European Union, and the degree of political and economic transformation they went through? The Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine made us recognize that the peaceful political transition that many of these countries have undergone is nothing less than miraculous and certainly not a given. And I am proud, as a European, that we've successfully accompanied, together with our American friends, this geopolitical miracle.
A miracle that has moved the EU closer to the far-reaching goal set forth by its founding fathers, the goal of an organized, vibrant, united, free and prosperous Europe. Thanks to this enlargement, the EU and every one of its Member States are more powerful on the world stage, enjoy a largely stable and peaceful continent and the world's largest single market, and have opened up the horizons of all Europeans. First and foremost, half of Europe is no longer separated from its other half.
As you know, our motto is "United in Diversity." The brilliance of the EU is precisely this unity in diversity. If you see a Pole dancing, you would probably never confuse him with a Greek dancing... We are proud of our differences, of our dances, of our histories, our food and our languages. And yet at the same time we have also celebrated the supreme richness of pulling our different cultures, histories, identities into the major European one, which allows us to celebrate both at the same time. And, make no mistake, if you see a Pole and a Greek walking in the street, you'll see brothers and sisters building a strong, a vibrant and a hopeful future together. I celebrate today this family that we have built together.
It is a family based on security, interests but also on values. As Ronald Reagan famously pointed out nearly 40 years ago, "the ultimate determinant in the struggle that's now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.” I trust that we will keep cherishing our values and ideals over the generations to come, and that the dream of a Europe whole and free will materialize completely.
As a Greek, in addition to a European, today is a special day. I was at the Stoa of Attalos in Athens when the Accession treaty was signed by every one of our Member States.
And it was in Thessaloniki where the EU collectivity decided to support the European perspective of the Western Balkans countries in 2003. United as we are today, we will be able to strengthen our political and economic ties with our neighbors both east and south.
Today let me say that I am proud to be Greek.
I am proud to be Cypriot.
I am proud to be Czech.
I am proud to be Estonian.
I am proud to be Hungarian.
I am proud to be Latvian.
I am proud to be Lithuanian.
I am proud to be Maltese.
I am proud to be Polish.
I am proud to be Slovakian.
I am proud to be Slovenian.
Because I am proud to be European.
To finish on a lighter note, we begin celebrating the European Month of Culture tomorrow, with events happening all across the city. And on May 11, all our embassies will be open to the public for the EU Open House. I look forward again this year to tens of thousands of Americans from all parts of the country coming and celebrating Europe Day with us.