The EU Bishops of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, have criticised the “self-centric” actions of member states during the COVID-19 pandemic and urged them to adopt a new Brussels-proposed rescue fund.
– A call to the EU “to renew the spirit of solidarity”
“A strong sense of belonging to each other and a clear vision served as inspiration for the founding fathers to create a community that today has become the EU”, the bishops of the bloc continued.
“Today, amidst a new tragedy – the COVID-19 pandemic – we call the EU to renew the spirit of solidarity and to agree on a recovery plan that puts the question of justice at its centre”.
– New European Commission plan responds to Pope’s call for “innovative solutions” for solidarity
The COMECE statement came a day after the European Commission (EC) announced an aid package – which it dubbed “Next Generation EU” – which if member states vote unanimously in favour of the measure will see the EU borrow €750 billion to fund the coronavirus recovery and pay that money back in future budgets.
The new fund will include a new “Recovery and Resilience Facility” consisting €310 billion in non-repayable grants and €250 billion in loans.
But while Next Generation EU was immediately welcomed by Germany, France, Italy and Spain – the European countries hardest-hit by the pandemic – the “frugal four” nations of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden expressed their reservations, opposing plans to mutualise debt and increase the EU budget.
Without mentioning the names of those countries specifically, the COMECE said it was concerned by divisions around the new EC recovery plan, and warned that “the failure to show solidarity, the unilateral border closures and the self-centric actions by [member] states in March” – at the height of the pandemic – “have caused disappointment amongst many citizens about the European project”.
But whereas countries’ unilateral actions in March “revealed the deficiency of the EU to live up to its values in times of crisis”, the EC recovery plan “sets out a clear perspective for a Europe that aims to grow united”, the COMECE said.
“A swift agreement on an ambitious recovery plan would be a visible sign that the EU and its member states have returned to the track of solidarity”, the EU bishops added.
Not only that, but the prelates said that the adoption of the rescue package would respond to Pope Francis’ Easter call to build solidarity in Europe through “innovative solutions”.
Drilling down into the specifics of Next Generation EU, the COMECE bishops said that the plan should “help Europe to recover through ecological, social and contributive justice”.
On ecological justice, the COMECE recalled that COVID-19 “has revealed both our dependence as well as our disastrous impact on a heavily fragile eco-system”, for which reason they urged politicians to “seize this moment as an opportunity to work for radical change and reinforce our efforts towards integral development and innovative thinking towards the future”.
In terms of promoting social justice, “the EU should care about and respect the needs of the most vulnerable in order to ensure social cohesion in Europe”, the COMECE bishops further implored.
They added with respect to the need for contributive justice that “we should ensure that nobody is able to shy away from his or her responsibility to contribute” towards recovery on the continent.
Echoing a call of the Pope’s in Evangelii Gaudium, the prelates insisted that the bloc “should urgently curb the structures of corruption and wide-spread tax evasion, which have taken a world-wide dimension, and enhance the framework for fair taxation in the EU”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused much pain and sorrow throughout Europe”, the COMECE concluded its note.
“The first failures by [member] states to show solidarity have fuelled disappointment about the European project and increased tensions.
“Let us find new hope for Europe in a joint recovery that expresses our renewed spirit of solidarity as well as our ambition to work for a just future”.