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Europe

What Will Change with EU Expansion?

Though the 10 new EU states will become full members of the bloc and fully adopt community law, some exceptions will be applied -- at least for interim periods. Here's a list of the most important changes.

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Border controls will remain in eastern Europe -- at least for now.

Border controls

EU citizens will be able to move freely throughout the Union. They will, however, need a valid personal identity card or passport to cross into the new member states because they are not yet members of the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border checks in many Western European countries. Border controls will continue between western and eastern European countries. The EU will determine at a later date when the border checks with the new member states should be lifted. Much of it will depend on the ability of the new member states to secure the EU's exterior borders. Only after EU conditions in this area are met can the new member states be brought into the Schengen Agreement and border controls be suspended.

Customs

Following EU expansion, the new member states will be integrated into the EU's internal market. Controls and tariffs on all goods will be eliminated. However, certain goods will still be banned from Germany and other western European countries, including guns and narcotics. Transport of tobacco will also be limited, with mobile groups being set up to help stop the smuggling business. Controls will also be carried out for illegal goods at western European borders. In the German states of Saxony and Thuringia alone, 404 officials have been assigned patrolling duties and will be working closely with the Federal Border Guard.

Labor market

In principle, EU citizens in Europe have the freedom to choose where they want to work. However, with the exception of Ireland and Britain, most of the existing EU member states are taking advantage of an optional provision negotiated in the accession agreement that permits countries to require work permits for members of the new EU states during the first two years after enlargement. (Citizens of Malta and Cyprus, however, will have full work rights from May 1.) The work permit provision can be extended for up to seven years. Germany has said it intends to do, but a valid case for extending the opt-out clause must be presented to the European Commission every two years.

Currency

Frankfurt bekommt in der Silvesternacht ein Euro-Denkmal

The European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt

The euro will not be extended to the new EU members immediately after accession, and all national currencies will be kept in place. Before they can join the euro, member states must fulfill the so-called Maastricht criteria and successfully piggyback their currency to the euro for at least two years with a consistent exchange rate.

Purchasing property

The new EU member states will also be required to allow the free movement of capital after joining the EU. But limitations have been placed on agricultural and forest lands. In these areas, the new member states have been given an opt-out provision that lasts for up to seven years (for Poland the length has been extended to 12 years). However, there are special rules that will allow farmers to lease land in the new member states.

Purchase of homes and apartments

Plattenbau in Ostdeutschland

An Eastern European "plattenbau" apartment building.

Following EU accession, EU citizens will be able to buy homes in all of the new EU countries -- including single family homes and apartments. However, they may not purchases the buildings exclusively as vacation homes. The main exception here is Slovenia, which has been granted the right to restrict the purchase of real estate for up to seven years after it joins the EU. During a transition period of five years, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Cyprus will maintain rules limiting the purchase of second apartments by citizens from other EU countries. Due to its extreme demographic and geographical situation, Malta will also permanently restrict the purchase of second apartments in the price range up to €70,000 ($83,500). For other types of real estate, the limit will be €1.2 million. Vacation apartments have also been classified as second apartments.

Subsidiary rights

Self-employed EU citizens and firms have already had the right to establish subsidiary businesses in the EU candidate countries for some time now. Entrepreneurs in the new EU member states also have the right to establish businesses in western Europe.

Studying abroad

The special EU academic program for the candidate states, the "East Partnership" will remain in place. But citizens of the new states will also now be able to participate in the EU's Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Youth in Europe programs.

Healthcare

On June 1, the EU will introduce a European health insurance card. At first it will be valid only in 12 EU countries -- Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Slovenia and Norway. But by the end of 2005 they will also be good in all EU countries. The new cards replace the E111 forms currently used by Europeans for healthcare reimbursement when visiting other European countries. Additionally, coverage will be extended from the current definition of procedures that are "essential without delay" to just "essential services," meaning a lot more treatment options will be covered. But until the cards are introduced, those covered by health care service in Europe must first get approval from their homeland insurer before seeking services in another EU country.

Pensions

Rentner auf der Parkbank

The Golden Girls

With their entry into the European Union, the so-called community law will now apply in the new EU member states. That means that when a person applies for their pension, regardless of where they are living in the EU, all the contributions they have made in countries throughout the EU will be calculated in determining the sum they are to receive. But the conditions for receiving a pension -- age limits, minimum number of years that have been paid into the system or disability -- will still be determined at the national level. There is currently no centralized EU pensions system. In all cases, a worker must pay into the pension system of the country where he or she is employed.

Car rentals

The legality of existing restrictions in western Europe that permit car rental agencies to ban the rental of certain car makes for travel into eastern Europe will still apply.

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