Enlargement, not disparity” “

Unified Europe also requires policies in favour of more vulnerable social groups" "

Caritas Europe – representing the Caritas agencies of 44 European countries – held a meeting in its own headquarters in Brussels on 19 June on “EU enlargement: towards a fair Europe”. During the meeting, a document spelling out the position of Caritas Europe on enlargement was presented. “Caritas Europe cannot accept the growing disparity between rich, less rich and very poor countries”, writes its president Denis Viénot , in the introduction to the document whose objective, he explains, “is to promote reflection on the needs of those for whom the benefits of enlargement are not so evident”. A “fair enlargement” in fact requires “the inclusion of policies in favour of more vulnerable social groups, such as immigrants, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly”. Caritas Europe also calls for “the greater involvement of the civil society and NGOs of all countries, and especially of the new member states, in the political decision-making process, to prevent large segments of the population being caught in the poverty trap”. The themes on which the document particularly focuses are: the free circulation of persons, employment, non-state social services. Free circulation of persons. Some 850,000 immigrants from central and eastern Europe are legally resident in the present EU. It is estimated that a further 600,000 illegal immigrants should be added to this figure. A recent Eurobarometer opinion poll reveals that 66% of European citizens are favourable to enlargement, while some 22% are against it, and this percentage is highest in those countries (Austria, Sweden, France, Germany) where people fear a greater impact of immigration following the entry of the ten new member states. An annual movement of approximately 350,000 people from these latter countries to the Fifteen existing EU members is expected in the decade 2004-2014. “It is the task of the national governments and of the EU – says Caritas – to inform citizens on the consequences of enlargement, to avoid, on the one hand, a demagogic exploitation of it by unscrupulous political parties, and prevent, on the other, disproportionate expectations”. Also essential, in the view of Caritas Europe, is “a strategy of social protection that may guarantee all residents in the EU access to social and healthcare services, education and training to favour integration, and serious investment policies to create real job opportunities”. Employment. In 2001 the percentage of unemployment in the EU was equivalent to 7.4% with the highest points in Spain, Greece and Italy. But the unemployment rate in the countries of Eastern Europe in 2002 was far higher: 19.9% in Bulgaria, 19.4% in Slovenia, 18.4% in Poland. These are countries in which poverty is constantly growing, in particular in the rural communities where it is not seldom for unemployment to be as high as 95%. Regular immigrants from these countries now represent 1.2% of the workforce in Austria and 0.4% in Germany. To ensure a sustainable growth of the EU, it is estimated that over 550,000 more workers will be needed each year down to 2010. Hence the need, according to Caritas Europe, to “promote legal work, facilitate the integration of immigrant workers, extend the rights of citizenship to long-term residents, and favour the reunification of families”. Social volunteer service and non-profit associations. The non-profit NGOs and associations and volunteer services provide qualified social assistance at low cost, especially after privatisation and the cuts in social and healthcare budgets registered in many countries. They reinforce the links between those combating exclusion and poverty. They are an essential bridge between society and institutions. They also represent significant opportunities for vocational training and employment, especially in the healthcare sector. “Ideal partners of the ‘European services of general interest’ – maintains Caritas Europe – these organizations must receive proper recognition from the EU and greater access to national and European structural funds. In a more general context, contracting procedures must take account of the quality of the services offered to ensure that proper social protection also be provided to the most vulnerable”.

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