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So long Paris, hello Bratislava Add to ...

Today, 10 primarily central and eastern European countries will join the already 15-strong European Union. These nations are young, ambitious and eager to exploit the benefits of the "Made in Europe" insignia to increase their profiles, their economies and, not least of all, their tourism industries. Some of the new members already have -- for years, Prague and Budapest have been as much a staple of the European experience as Paris, Amsterdam and Rome. And if Ljubljana, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bratislava get their way, they will be too.

The addition of these lesser-known countries under the European banner not only raises the number of EU states, but it also increases the union's surface area by 23 per cent and its population by 75 million to number nearly 400 million. These newcomers will change the dynamics of the entire continent, stretching it farther east than it has ever been. And they are bringing with them a wealth of new tourist destinations, further diversifying Europe's already eclectic history, language and culture.

While provocative topics like immigration quotas, parliamentary seats and monetary policies have increasingly dominated European newspaper headlines as the May 1 inauguration approached, few industries will be affected so profoundly as tourism. This is because the EU, already the world's leading tourism destination, can expect the number of visitors to its castles, ruins, monuments and hotels to double in the next 25 years.

According to the World Trade Organization, 717 million tourists will arrive at EU destinations in 2025. The bulk of this enormous growth will come in the young emerging markets of its newest member states. North Americans, Asians and particularly Europeans are increasingly being lured to the uncharted charms of these relatively undiscovered landscapes. The choice between suffering the July congestion of Tuscany or flying free through the rugged forests of Slovakia or the Baltic States has become for many a no-brainer. EU endorsement simply makes this choice easier.

For smaller countries such as Malta, Estonia and Slovenia, EU membership brings with it greater exposure to European consumers. And not only that; as EU members, these countries will also have almost immediate access to hundreds of millions of euros in EU subsidies administered from cash-rich Brussels, money earmarked to upgrade public infrastructure such as airports, roads and, in some cases, water management systems to ensure cleaner beaches.

For travellers, relaxed passport control and eventually a common currency will lessen the hassle of travelling. Market liberalization will improve the quality of service and eventually lead to lower prices, particularly among airlines. Here follows a brief guide to Europe's new gang:

Cyprus

Since 2500 BC, Cyprus has been at the crossroads of European, Asian and African trade. Throughout its history, the third-largest island in the Mediterranean has been ruled by just about every great foreign power both ancient and modern, and each left behind a piece of its culture.

Today, the island is a heady blend of antiquity, exotic local colour and the Mediterranean Sea, a mix that has turned it into one of Europe's major holiday destinations.

But Cyprus will enter the EU a divided country, much against the European Commission's wishes. The dupes of the failed April referendum are the Turkish Cypriots, whose half of the island will not be flying the EU flag or enjoying the fruits of its money. The result is that while the Turkish side will likely stagnate, the Greek side, or southern Cyprus, will continue to increase its amenities, services and infrastructure. On the other hand, an empty northern Cyprus with inherent Turkish flavour might just turn out to be the most interesting half to visit.

Czech Republic

Since the mid-1990s, the Czech Republic has felt more European than most parts of Europe. The beauty of the country's capital city, Prague, has enticed thousands of Europeans and North Americans to set up shop amid the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and art nouveau façades. The guidebooks and novels the original pioneers wrote attracted even more. Prague had a jump on the rest of Europe and it shows. The ubiquity of its beer halls attests to a young clientele and the recent string of designer venues such as Hotel Josef indicate that Prague is catering to the European jet set.

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