Challenges of the New Europe

As 10 new members join the European Union, Graham Avery, asenior European Commissioner adviser, welcomed this enlargement,but spelled out the challenges that lie ahead. He was speaking inBrussels at a special briefing for the Church and SocietyCommission of the Council of European Churches. The son of aMethodist minister, the late Edward Avery, and brought up in SierraLeone, Mr Avery spoke with the passion of a missionary as heoutlined the present achievements and future possibilities of theUnion.

"Eight of the new entrants had been deeply impoverished whilstmembers of the Soviet bloc. They have prepared more carefully formembership than any previous new entrants, but great problemsremain. Their accession increased EU membership by 20%, but addedonly 5% to EU income. The number of farmers in the Union doubledafter enlargement on 1 May, largely due to Poland's entry. Most ofthese are very poor and ill equipped. There has never been somarked an economic imbalance in the EU, and this threatens theprospects of both new and existing members. It will be veryimportant to listen to the new members. They have had to accept thestringent conditions that entry requires; we must now takeseriously their views on how Europe can work best for those peoplewho are now its poorest citizens.

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

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

The largest immediate problem is the proposed entry of Turkey. Thefailure of the United Nations plan to unite Cyprus beforeenlargement will affect the chances of Turkey's candidature. Theway in which powerful Christian voices have opposed Turkey's entryon religious grounds Mr Avery described as "irrelevant andshameful". He acknowledged the value of the Churches' insistencethat there should be no "religious test" for Turkey's entry. TheUnion's future relations with Turkey, and with its neighbours tothe South and East, were of enormous importance to the future ofEurope and the world, he said.

Anthea Cox, pictured with Graham Avery and others, is the newMethodist member of the Executive of the Church and SocietyCommission. Anthea said, "the purpose of the meeting was to set thecommission's agenda for the next six years. Working groups will beestablished to look at areas including European Integration, PeaceSecurity and Reconciliation, Social Issues and Ethics Science andTechnology among others. The programme is ambitious but clearlyoutlines our shared responsibility as Christians in Europe. It isvitally important that the Methodist Church in Britain and EuropeanMethodists are part of this debate. In the run up to a referendumon the EU constitution it will be important that we are in dialoguewith our European Partners, aware of our shared vision and in aplace where we can demonstrate the importance of a Christianpresence as Europe develops."