Leaders of the new 25-member European Union meet for a ceremonial summit in Dublin today (Saturday) to mark the symbolic end to the continent's Cold War divisions and the creation the world's largest trading bloc.
The formal "Day of Welcome" takes place in Ireland because it holds the rotating EU presidency. Ceremonies include the raising of 25 flags and prayers for peace with Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders at Dublin Castle.
Security has been beefed up in the Irish capital to prevent anti-globalization protesters from disrupting the summit.
The organization expanded from 15 to 25 members at the stroke of midnight Brussels time (2200 hours Universal time Friday).
The new members are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. All but Cyprus and Malta are former communist states.
Old and new EU member nations marked the occasion with fireworks displays, concerts, ceremonies and overnight street celebrations that drew tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities.
What started in 1950 as a six-member trade and economic bloc now spans the European continent from the Atlantic in the west to the Russian border in the east, with a population of 450 million people and economic output rivaling that of the United States.
After festivities end, European politicians are expected to return to business, resuming negotiations over EU's first-ever constitution, and dealing with such issues as poverty, human rights, and the environment.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.