06 May 2004

Challenges of the New Europe

As 10 new members join the European Union, Graham Avery, a senior European Commissioner adviser, welcomed this enlargement, but spelled out the challenges that lie ahead. He was speaking in Brussels at a special briefing for the Church and Society Commission of the Council of European Churches. The son of a Methodist minister, the late Edward Avery, and brought up in Sierra Leone, Mr Avery spoke with the passion of a missionary as he outlined the present achievements and future possibilities of the Union.

"Eight of the new entrants had been deeply impoverished whilst members of the Soviet bloc. They have prepared more carefully for membership than any previous new entrants, but great problems remain. Their accession increased EU membership by 20%, but added only 5% to EU income. The number of farmers in the Union doubled after enlargement on 1 May, largely due to Poland's entry. Most of these are very poor and ill equipped. There has never been so marked an economic imbalance in the EU, and this threatens the prospects of both new and existing members. It will be very important to listen to the new members. They have had to accept the stringent conditions that entry requires; we must now take seriously their views on how Europe can work best for those people who are now its poorest citizens.

"These difficulties made the agreement of the Constitutional Treaty of great importance, although the Union would survive if the Constitution were not agreed. The European Union has clearly failed to draw closer to its citizens, as turnout at the European Parliamentary Elections on 10-12 June is likely to show. But the Treaty is the closest the Union has come to explaining its values, objectives and powers. Without the Treaty, there is a danger that the Union will be paralysed. This will affect everybody for the worse, and the most harmed will be the new entrants.

"The present enlargement is the riskiest ever, but the extension to the East makes a strong, principled foreign policy even more important, as the Union's borders move to Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and the Balkans. It is these wider, more distant horizons to which thoughtful European should lift their eyes."

The largest immediate problem is the proposed entry of Turkey. The failure of the United Nations plan to unite Cyprus before enlargement will affect the chances of Turkey's candidature. The way in which powerful Christian voices have opposed Turkey's entry on religious grounds Mr Avery described as "irrelevant and shameful". He acknowledged the value of the Churches' insistence that there should be no "religious test" for Turkey's entry. The Union's future relations with Turkey, and with its neighbours to the South and East, were of enormous importance to the future of Europe and the world, he said.

Anthea Cox, pictured with Graham Avery and others, is the new Methodist member of the Executive of the Church and Society Commission. Anthea said, "the purpose of the meeting was to set the commission's agenda for the next six years. Working groups will be established to look at areas including European Integration, Peace Security and Reconciliation, Social Issues and Ethics Science and Technology among others. The programme is ambitious but clearly outlines our shared responsibility as Christians in Europe. It is vitally important that the Methodist Church in Britain and European Methodists are part of this debate. In the run up to a referendum on the EU constitution it will be important that we are in dialogue with our European Partners, aware of our shared vision and in a place where we can demonstrate the importance of a Christian presence as Europe develops."

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