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Churches urge EU action on poverty

26 June 2020

Covid-19 has had a ‘devastating impact on entire continent’


A waiter stands outside an empty restaurant in Rome, on Monday, during the current financial crisis for the Italian catering industry

A waiter stands outside an empty restaurant in Rome, on Monday, during the current financial crisis for the Italian catering industry

EURODIACONIA, which represents 52 Churches and Christian social organisations, has urged the European Union to do more to alleviate poverty and exclusion under its post-coronavirus recovery plan.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the entire European continent, leaving no one untouched — people have been forced to adapt their lives as they face a new reality,” the Brussels-based network, which includes the Church of Scotland and British Free Churches Group, said.

“Yet there remain significant gaps in actions taken by the EU and member-states. If these gaps are not addressed quickly, then we will face severe economic and social consequences.”

In an open letter to the EU Commission’s president, Dr Ursula von der Leyen, and other leaders, Eurodiaconia said that the recovery plan, unveiled on 27 May, had recognised “core issues” arising from the pandemic.

It said, however, that both the plan and the EU’s revised budget had focused too much on health care and protecting economies at the cost of “measures and safeguards” to tackle Europe’s impending social crisis.

“We must ensure an overall commitment to addressing all forms of poverty and social exclusion — to make the fight against poverty a long-term priority for the EU,” Eurodiaconia said. Its 800,000 staff, and more than one million volunteers, run 30,000 service centres across Europe.

“Consulting relevant stakeholders is of fundamental importance in this process, while social services need to be included to ensure targeted support for the most vulnerable.”

European heads of government discussed the 2000-page recovery plan during a video conference last Friday. They focused on how to allocate its €750 billion in grants and loans, as well as on the EU’s revised budget, or multi-annual financial framework, of €1100 billion for 2021-27.

Officials warned, however, that Covid-19 had intensified discord between EU capitals, and predicted that an agreement on distributing funds was unlikely before the end of next month.

In its open letter, Eurodiaconia said that “quick adoption” of the plan and budget was now vital. The letter, signed by the alliance’s secretary-general, Heather Roy, said: “Every day our members witness and respond to the social, economic, health, emotional and spiritual needs faced by people across the continent.

“We must not see services and actions that seek to ensure the inclusion of the most vulnerable in our society suspended or cancelled due to a lack of decision-making.”

Eurodiaconia advocates social justice, in partnership with the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, and other bodies. Members of its supervisory board come from Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Romania.

In a separate statement last week, it said that the coronavirus crisis posed particular future hazards for young people in education, employment, and mental health, but urged governments to ensure that recovery measures were extended to all age groups, to “avoid exacerbating inter-generational inequalities”.

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