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    LITHUANIA, LATVIA, ESTONIA JOIN EUROPEAN UNION

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    VILNIUS/RIGA/TALLINN, May 1, (RIA Novosti) - Three former Soviet republics, i.e. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which are now independent countries, as well as seven other Eastern and Central European countries, joined the European Union May 1.

    Latvia's admission into the EU will change many spheres of public life, local analysts note. The list of positive changes includes the abolition of customs control on Latvian-Estonian and Latvian-Lithuanian borders; more lenient border control will be introduced for all Latvians going to other EU countries. However, local authorities will continue to issue visas for a while; all visas will be abolished, after Latvia joins the Schengen treaty. Still this may only happen in 2007 or 2008.

    EU-employment restrictions still persist. As of today, Latvian citizens can only work in Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden and nine new EU member-countries. The Latvian currency, i.e. the lat, will still play the part of legal tender. Latvia won't float the Euro before 2008. However, the lat will be pegged to the Euro already next year, what with all local stores listing their prices in both currencies.

    Experts predict skyrocketing prices for most local goods. In their opinion, local prices are to soar by an average of 10 percent, after the country joins the EU. Former Latvian prime minister Ivars Godmanis believes that 25-27-percent price hikes are distinctly possible. Gasolene and diesel-fuel prices will soar most of all.

    All these aspects influence the attitude of Latvian citizens toward their country's EU membership. About 60 percent of all Latvians taking part in a 2003 opinion poll had advocated Latvia's admission into the EU; right now, their number has plunged by more than 10 percent.

    Border-crossing regulations changed on the territory of new EU countries in the early hours of May 1. Talking to RIA Novosti, officials at the Latvian customs department noted that this will concern those persons arriving from the East, CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries, first and foremost. EU regulations and restrictions will cover a multitude of goods and personal effects, including gifts and souvenirs.

    Lithuanian visas will also change starting with May 1. All of Lithuania's foreign missions and consular agencies will start issuing new visas May 1; such visas, which tally with EU requirements, are perceived as mandatory by all EU countries. New Lithuanian visas will only allow travelers to enter Lithuania, until the republic joins the Schengen treaty. Lithuania would be expected to float the Euro in 2007. Until then, the lit will remain the republican legal tender.

    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will celebrate their EU membership in an impressive setting.

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