The FINANCIAL -- According to EU business, Portugal's prime minister symbolically handed over the rotating EU presidency to Slovenia on December 22 at a ceremony to celebrate Slovenia's entry into the border-free Schengen zone.
"With this ceremony, we finish the Portuguese presidency," Portugal's Jose Socrates said at the Skofije border crossing between Italy and Slovenia.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa were also at the ceremony.
He handed Jansa an astrolabe, an ancient instrument used by astronomers and sailors for navigational purposes, to provide "guidance" during Slovenia's EU presidency.
Portugal officially ends its six-month term as EU president on December 31 and will be succeeded by Slovenia, a former Yugoslav state that joined the EU in 2004.
Jansa meanwhile thanked Portugal "for its contribution in strengthening Europe and for this fresh optimism," resulting from the lifting of barriers to nine mainly eastern European states as they joined the Schengen zone.
He said Slovenia will be among the first in the coming months to ratify the Lisbon treaty -- signed by European leaders last week and aimed at streamlining the functioning of the bloc -- and will do its best to have as many EU members as possible ratify it in the first half of 2008.
Socrates said on December 22 he was happy to be able to end his mandate with the enlargement of the Schengen area.
"I cannot imagine a better way to finish a presidency," he said.