The poor in Europe

Almost eighty million: the commitment of EU institutions and those of the Catholic Church

Combating poverty “is a paramount political imperative in the decennial that has just begun” and it must represent “the fundamental pillar of development and social cohesion policies” at European level. José Manuel Barroso, EU Commission president, addressed the issue in his opening speech for the inauguration of 2010 – European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion in Madrid. His words were echoed by EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla, who recalled the major objectives of the EU for the forthcoming 12 months: “To remember that individuals” living in state of poverty or marginalization “are entitled to the fundamental right to live in full dignity and be active societal players”; “to construct and uphold solidarity across society”; to ensure that the EU and all of its Member States are concretely engaged in “combating poverty and promoting social inclusion”.The Year’s objectives will only be met when these words will become facts, triggering public awareness once and for all with government measures for the “ill-starred”. Since while it is a fact that poverty and the poor have always been a part of human history, there is no plausible political theory claiming that this state of affairs is ineradicable. This is all the more true in contemporary society, where the availability of means and wealth is such as to remove hunger, illness, solitude and lack of employment, which are the most explicit – but not the only – facets of poverty. Figures released from EU survey bureaus confirm that the poor, namely people and families who live on the threshold of poverty, still abound across all corners of “rich Europe”. Certainly the ongoing economic crisis increased the difficult situations, but 80 million people, (17% of EU population) who are lacking the primary means to access housing, nourishment, education facilities… are an open wound that no one can remain indifferent to. Children, the elderly living alone, the unemployed, sick people, and large families today are the “new ill-fated” to whom is being denied the possibility of living a fully dignified life. And scholars have warned us to be careful. The threshold of poverty is “magmatic”, not motionless. In the future it may involve other individuals and social brackets. A combination of risk-conditions such as family problems, high-rents, poor education, and a welfare system jeopardized by individual-customized policies further worsen “material” poverty.For all of these reasons the EU has (finally) decided to focus on the problem of poverty, a commitment that will need to be extended far beyond 2010, while solidarity, the key word of post-war European integration processes, ought to regain a primary role.For these very reasons Catholic Church statements have underlined the importance of the current European Year, while this week Caritas Europe has launched in Brussels the campaign “Zero poverty”, aimed at delving into the situation, raising public awareness, involving the solidarity of the Christian community and last but not least prompting concrete measures by public institutions in favor of the family, along with employment and social services initiatives aimed at preventing and removing the causes of poverty. Pope Benedict XVI’s symbolic gesture of visiting charity works in Rome on February 14, an invitation that was extended to all European bishops, enhances this path. Erny Gillen, President of Caritas Europe, and monsignor Adrian Van Luyn, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), underlined that the date coincides with the Day of the Patron Saints of Europe Cyril and Methodius. It is an appeal to peace and wellbeing for all the populations in Europe “called to bear witness to the Christian roots not only with words but with facts, with the fruits of the good deeds”.

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