EU Expansion 2004
The Minister Presidents of the Czech Republic (Spidla; left) and Poland (Miller; second from right) meet with Chancellor Schröder and EU Commissioner Verheugen (right) to celebrate the accession of several Eastern Europe states to the EU (photo: Marco Urban).

Beginning with his presidency of the EU Council, in 1999, Gerhard Schröder focused Germany’s European policy on overcoming the historical divide between the eastern and western parts of the continent. With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989–90, Eastern European states had regained freedom and sovereignty but remained outside the European Union. Membership negotiations that began in 1997 were still not complete. At the 2002 EU summit in Copenhagen, Germany helped pave the way for the accession of eight Eastern European states as well as Cyprus and Malta on 1 May 2004. It was the largest expansion in the history of the European Union. The prospect of admission was also extended to Turkey and the Balkan states. Gerhard Schröder gave strong support to Turkey’s candidacy, helping to kickstart membership negotiations in 2005. Schröder’s chancellorship lent new momentum to other areas of Eastern European policy as well. He forged strategic partnerships to expand cultural, economic, and political relations between Europe and Russia, which has helped to ensure peace and stability while also facilitating difficult political processes, such as the expansion of NATO and the EU to Russia’s borders.