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SPEECH/02/389

Dr. Franz FISCHLER

Member of the European Commission   responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries

Solidarity in Europe The key to lasting peace and successful enlargement

Conference "The Role of the Catholic Church in the Process of European Integration"

Cracow, 13 September 2002

Your Eminence (Cardinal Franciszek Macharski),

Your Excellency (Nuncio Archbishop Kowalczyk)

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the Austrian Cardinal Franz König once said, "The path to a united Europe must pass through central Europe". In the light of these words, it gives me great pleasure to be here today in Cracow, one of the spiritual centres of Central Europe.

Indeed, Cracow's special place on the spiritual map of Europe was recently reconfirmed during the visit by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who underlined once again his vision for Poland, saying "I hope that Poland, which has for centuries been part of Europe, will find its rightful place at the table of the EU. And far from losing its identity, Poland will in the process enrich both the continent and the world with its traditions".

For me, these words by the Holy Father are something of a blueprint for Poland, and also for the European Union. For the EU is more than just the sum of its Member States - there is no doubt that every new member brings its own valuable contribution to the Community.

However, the basic philosophy behind the EU in no way entails an abandonment of national identity. On the contrary - the wealth of diverse identities is what defines the very richness of the European continent.

The intention is merely to exercise a share of our sovereignty jointly through the EU institutions - but only in areas where this is useful.

  • I would like to start today by addressing the one principle that makes European integration such an attractive prospect, namely solidarity between Member States.

  • I will go on to show how, after enlargement, the solidarity shown by the EU members can be of particular benefit to rural Poland.

  • And to finish, I will counter the allegation, often voiced here in Poland, that joining the EU is akin to clapping a straitjacket on national independence.

    Solidarity - the bedrock of European integration

Just what, we may ask ourselves, are the principles driving European integration? What are the core values that hold the nations of Europe together? To answer this question, we have to go back to birth of the EU. It was founded in reaction to the war and so the process of integration was, from the start, intended to secure peace in Europe. It is our duty to ensure that the horrors of war, which this city, too, has suffered, are never repeated. And as they set about their task, the founding fathers of the EU were surely inspired by an idea later given explicit expression in the Pastoral Constitution, "Gaudium et Spes": "Peace is not merely the absence of war." To safeguard a lasting peace in Europe, a new, creative approach was called for. And this model was devised with the founding of the EU.

What exactly was so new about this model?

Firstly, the EU represents a unique middle way between a collaborative international approach to governance and the preservation of its members' sovereignty. While it provides a platform for joint action to meet common challenges, the EU fulfils this role without requiring any of its members to relinquish their sovereignty.

Secondly, the EU represents a new model in that it tackles the root causes of potential conflicts, specifically inequality. To combat this injustice, the EU has from the outset put a premium on solidarity.

For it is only in the spirit of solidarity, which of course draws inspiration from Christian ideas of charity, that a peaceful future can be secured. And the Holy Father has himself recently invoked the spirit of solidarity once more.

I would like to demonstrate for you with the aid of three examples how solidarity works in practice within the EU.

Regional policy

This is without a doubt the most important example of solidarity. The opening sections of the EU's founding Treaty define its mission statement as follows: to "promote .... solidarity among Member States" [Art. 2] and to dedicate itself to "reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the less-favoured regions" [Preamble].

To meet this challenge, the EU has formulated a comprehensive policy through which money is channelled from the wealthier Member States to their poorer counterparts, and from the prosperous regions to those that are structurally underdeveloped. In the current period, regional policy has a budget of some €213 billion - over a third of the EU budget. The benefits of this policy are manifest: Ireland, for example, once the poor relation of northern Europe, now boasts a thriving domestic economy, and regional aid has also put Portugal on the path to greater prosperity. One thing is quite certain - after joining the EU, Poland too will see a clear dividend from regional policy.

Pre-accession assistance

Indeed, the EU has been demonstrating its solidarity with Poland for some considerable time now - for the first time in the history of EU enlargement, each prospective member has its own programme of assistance. Since 1990 over €10 billion has been transferred to central and eastern Europe, mainly through the Phare programme. This money is being used to create modern administration systems, improve infrastructure and invest in the economy. In the current programming period, special programmes for environmental protection and rural development have been added. The budget for Poland under these programmes up to 2006 totals €4 billion.

Development cooperation

Another major example of solidarity is development aid. As the world's largest donor, the EU is responsible for more than 50% of global development aid. Altogether this amounts to a total of €111.7 billion transferred to the world's poorest nations every year.

But it is not merely through cooperation programmes that the EU helps developing countries - it is also keen to expand its trade with these countries. In agricultural goods alone, the EU imports more than the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand put together. Two years ago we threw our borders open to products from the world's poorest countries - they are now free to export their products to the EU unencumbered by tariffs or quotas.

Rural development

The fourth example of EU solidarity falls within my remit - rural development policy. In its previous guise, support under the EU agricultural policy was confined to sustaining farming as an economic activity. Products were subsidised to guarantee farmers a reasonable income. Today, however, we have to realise that such a policy does not go far enough. What is the point of subsidising farmers' products if their families see no future in a life working the land? And what end is served by subsidies that ignore people's real desires and needs? If there are no opportunities for training or employment for young people in rural areas, farm subsidies on their own will be powerless to stem the drift to the cities.

So it is clear that we must act to ensure the continuing viability of the countryside. It is here that the very essence of a nation lies. This is as true of the Tirolean Alps, the region of my birth, as of the Beskid Mountains or the Masurian Lakes here in Poland. It is simply not an option, therefore, to leave these rural communities in the lurch, sitting by as their population ages and the young drift away to the towns. Such was the inspiration behind today's rural development policy.

This policy supports an agricultural presence throughout all regions of the EU. We support farmers who must struggle with adverse conditions, such as upland farmers, and we promote initiatives to give farmers a better future, such as investment in farms, training programmes or improvements to processing and marketing systems. We also underwrite initiatives that benefit the whole rural community, such as improving infrastructure, supporting handicrafts and tourism and regeneration schemes for rural villages.

Together, all these measures still account for less than ten percent of the EU farm budget. This is a good start but clearly we must go further. That is why two months ago I proposed a change of policy that could ultimately almost double the amount of money available for rural development. This is the only way we can guarantee a secure and sustainable future for farmers and rural areas.

    Rural development and enlargement

Ladies and gentlemen,

For Poland too, the challenge of securing a future for its rural population is real. In the years after the collapse of the Communist system, Poland's system of small farms proved to be a significant safety net for the many people left destitute by the economic fallout. Unfortunately however, not much further down the line, these farms no longer hold out the prospect of a decent living for people on the land. As a result, more and more people are thronging to towns and cities like Warsaw, where the economic recovery is in full swing. Per-capita income in the Warsaw region has already reached the EU average. By comparison, rural regions such as Podlaskie are trailing far behind. The transition of Polish economy and society is already well under way, regardless of any decision to join the EU or not. If you join, however, the EU can help lessen the pain of structural change - deciding against it risks a future of emptying villages and regions.

If we want rural communities to have a future, we must make rural development one of our top priorities.

To ensure no time is lost, the EU has already set up a programme to provide assistance for rural areas in the applicant countries in advance of accession. I am delighted to announce that this programme - called Sapard - was finally up and running in Poland at the end of June. I hope the funding available under this programme - over �170 million every year - can now start finding its way rapidly to Poland's rural areas, as there is a certain delay to make up here.

The process begun with Sapard will be expanded after accession:

    new members will receive more aid for rural areas than currently received by existing members;

    the EU will fund up to 80% of the total cost, compared with a rate of only 50-75% in existing Member States;

    the new members can use the existing administrative structures to manage rural development;

    we are proposing a separate scheme for semi-subsistence farms. Farmers that can put forward a viable plan for the future operation of their holding will be granted a yearly premium of up to �750.

It is with this package of measures that we want to show solidarity and support for the rural community and, in so doing, help make enlargement a real success. Indeed, success cannot be measured in terms of new laws adopted and negotiations completed. Real success will only come when we can improve the lot of the people in the new Member States and ensure their smooth assimilation into the European family.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Along with solidarity there is a second basic principle from Christian teaching that is fundamental to the EU - subsidiarity. I would like to say a few brief words on this concept. Unlike other forms of confederacy experienced by central Europe in the past, the EU places a premium on subsidiarity. What exactly does that mean? It means that the EU will act only where it can be sure this is more effective than action at a lower level. Action at EU level can be more effective, for example, to enforce competition laws and environmental regulation. Many other tasks, however, are handled as well if not better by national governments or regional authorities.

Take rural development again - in this area, the EU restricts itself to setting the broad framework and providing the cash. Deciding what to fund with this money is the province of regional or national government in the Member States. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for regional development. Every region must develop its own solutions. We believe the people on the ground have a better idea of what is right for them and should therefore be free to devise their development programmes for themselves. The same goes for regional policy.

To sum up then, what Europe needs is cooperation, not homogenisation. We want to solve our problems by acting together, since national governments are often too small to act by themselves. And because in the past going it alone has all too often been a recipe for conflict. In all of this, however, one thing is certain - a common market and shared prosperity are, by themselves, not enough to ensure lasting cooperation.

In this respect, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was right to urge us to build a "spiritual Europe". I am happy that the Catholic Church is ready to play its part in this.

Two years ago, the Holy Father canonised three women as co-patronesses of Europe [Catherine of Sienna, Bridget of Sweden and Edith Stein], to add to the traditional patron saint of our continent, Saint Benedict. At the canonisation ceremony he wisely said, "In order to build the new Europe on solid foundations it is certainly not enough to appeal to economic interests alone . . . rather there is a need to act on the basis of authentic values".

To my mind, such a value set would include as a minimum

  • respect for freedom, human rights and human dignity

  • democracy and the rule of law

  • tolerance towards others

  • and, last but not least, solidarity.

Such values are also part of the traditional values of the Catholic Church. I am confident, therefore, that the Church, as one of the foremost moral authorities in Europe, will continue to uphold these values. Indeed, this conference itself is proof of the Church's commitment to the cause of a united Europe. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for this commitment and urge you to carry on the vital communication work you do with the public.

Thank you for your attention.


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