CHURCH aid groups have accused the European Union of neglecting social justice and child poverty in its far-reaching coronavirus recovery package, agreed last week by the EU Council, and urged MEPs to demand changes.
“Today, one in four children in the EU grow up at risk of poverty and social exclusion — Covid-19 and its socio-economic consequences are worryingly expected to escalate this figure exponentially”, the EU Alliance for Investing in Children said. Its members include Caritas-Europa and the mostly Protestant Eurodiaconia, as well as UNICEF and Save the Children.
“This is a historic moment to champion the rights of children within the EU and ensure the next generation grows up in inclusive, healthy, equitable and prosperous societies.”
In an open letter to the Italian president of the European Parliament, David Maria Sassoli, and other senior officials, the Alliance said that the EU Council’s “deeply disappointing” package appeared to have ignored calls in 2019 by MEPs and the European Commission for member-states to invest in ensuring that children had access to free health care and education, as well as decent housing and nutrition.
Heather Roy, the British secretary-general of Eurodiaconia, which represents 52 Churches and Christian social organisations, branded the package a “mixed bag” for slashing health and cohesion funding when the full impact of Covid-19 was still awaited.
“Reducing funds now for the very programmes that will support people in employment, care, health and well-being, as well as researching the causes of inequalities and social phenomena is not really a visionary inclusive approach”, Ms Roy said in a statement.
“We are all equal, all entitled to care and support, all created in the same image and with the same value. The fight for social justice never goes on holiday — and will continue, despite the obstacles”.
The recovery package, finalised on Tuesday of last week after marathon five-day negotiations, includes €750 billion in grants and loans — the largest-ever financial deal — and is accompanied by a €1.074-trillion budget, or multi-annual financial framework, for the next seven years.
The package, initially opposed as too generous by Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, was described by the Council’s Belgian president, Charles Michel, as a “pivotal moment” for Europe. It was praised as an “expression of solidarity” by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU.
The Church of England’s Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, lauded the Council’s focus on climate security and described the agreed measures as “a new Marshall Plan for Europe”.
“Complementing efforts at national level, this EU agreement should be a fundamental support for Covid-19-related economic and social reconstruction,” Dr Innes said last week. “This agreement among the EU27 demonstrates the determination, on the part of the EU, to set a clear future course in a post-Brexit world.”
Read comment on the EU package here