Latvia joins the euro. Croatia joins the European Union. Serbia enters EU accession talks and Kosovo expands its ties with the bloc. A sense of optimism ruled at the two-day EU leaders summit.
The summit ended with a number of positive notes. It was able to lift a bit off the dark mood in the bloc caused by recessions and unemployment: Latvia met the conditions to join the eurozone common currency area as of January 1. With a budget deficit of just over 1 percent and state debt of about 40 percent of economic output, the Baltic country has statistics that make many long-standing euro members jealous.
"Not too long ago many people were talking about the eurozone falling apart," EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. "Now we see the opposite."
Accession talks with Serbia
The EU itself will also be growing - both next month and possibly in coming years. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy welcomed Croatia to the European Union, which it will officially join on July 1. He also said European leaders have "agreed to open accession negotiations with Serbia, and taken a key step in our relations with Kosovo."
Relations with Kosovo would be deepened with a Stabilization and Association Agreement, which represents the preliminary step toward possible accession talks. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, once a Serbian province, as an independent country, but both nations have contributed to de-escalation tension between Belgrade and Pristina.
"Let's not forget what happened not so long ago in that part of Europe with one of the most violent wars we saw," Barroso said, emphasizing the importance of peace in the region and the attraction that entering the EU still has for countries.
Differing economic views
There was also positive economic and financial news to report from the two-day summit in Brussels. The multiyear EU financial framework for 2014-2020 answered who will pay should banks in the EU require another bailout and leaders agreed on a project to reduce youth unemployment across the bloc.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was satisfied with the results but warned of the danger of complacency. "We have moved another step forward, but we have certainly not achieved our goal." She bushed for further deepening of the economic and financial union. Countries should coordinate their policies to become more competitive. Merkel admitted that views on "which factors are actually important for growth and competitiveness" differed across the EU. The leaders want to bring those views into line by October, and by December spell out exactly how they will increase growth and competitiveness.
That "there's still a lot of work to do," as Merkel said, can be seen on the difficulties some EU nations have with meeting the responsibilities they set themselves. In recent weeks, the French government had a confrontation with the European Commission in which French President Francois Hollande called the European Commission's reform recommendations for his country a "dictate" from Brussels.
Merkel seemed to be referring to this war of words when she mentioned "complications" dealing with national recommendations. Hollande played down the exchange's importance, but did not budge from his line. "I simply expect that the shared institutions can work together in a spirit of dialogue."
In the end, the French leader seemed to be looking to save face, but the fight could also be seen as the harbinger of conflicts to come.