East joins West
by Margarita Plotnikova
more countries will join the European Union on 1 May. What does
enlargement mean in practice for the National Societies of Central
and Eastern Europe?
year's enlargement of the European Union (EU) — its
biggest ever — is a historic moment and a strategic
success. It has been heralded as a political coming of age,
above all, for the former communist nations of Central and
Eastern Europe. The culmination of a process that began when
the first pickaxe blow fell on the Berlin Wall that dizzy
November day 15 years ago. Possibly the end, for those states,
of "transition" itself.
But the National Red Cross Societies are asking what impact
the new Europe will have on the humanitarian agenda, and how
best to respond to enlargement.
"The EU will not provide answers to many social problems
— and it might even cause more," says Srecko Zajc,
secretary general of the Slovenian Red Cross. Slovenia, one
of the 2004 accession states, is a gateway country conveniently
situated between the Balkans and rich nations like Italy and
Austria. Last year, the pan-European law enforcement agency
Europol mentioned Slovenia and Romania as possible new "entry
points" to Western Europe for organized drug traffickers
from South America.
No easy answers
Migration is also expected to increase with enlargement,
which means that many accession countries now take responsibility
for the outer border of the EU — the world's largest
trading area and a source of hope for millions of potential
Governments and National Societies have been gearing up refugee
and migrant programmes to deal with the expected flow of people.
"We have been involved with refugees for a long time,"
recalls Emil Dyekiss of the Hungarian Red Cross. "Having
an agreement with the Hungarian interior ministry, the Red
Cross provides various services for refugees and maintains
a refugee centre. Today, we are preparing to play a greater
role in protecting vulnerable migrants."
And post-enlargement, fund-raising in Brussels is likely
to get harder, not easier, even if there are larger rewards
for ultimately successful bids. The EU will become poorer,
on average, with household income of the newcomers some 40
per cent below the level of the existing members. And the
Union's budget will not grow in proportion to enlargement.
To gain access to EU funding sources, National Societies
need to demonstrate initiative, good management and transparency.
The EU offers its hand in partnership, certainly, but it also
plunges all humanitarian actors into fierce competition for
money. It welcomes new ideas and approaches, but the rules
governing project presentation and reporting are very strict.
And complex too.
Stick with what works is the advice from Pentti Kotoaro,
head of the International Federation's regional delegation
in Budapest. "Don't spread yourself too thinly,"
he says, "and concentrate on key activities."
"Invest in developing project planning skills, training
staff from branches and in partnerships and cooperation with
'older' EU members and learn from them," he adds. "Be
innovative in income generation. Eventually, all these things
will be an investment in your National Society that will provide
better humanitarian services in your own countries and beyond."
Overnight, on 1 May, National Societies possibly more used
to being beneficiaries over the transition period will again
become potential donors and implementers for humanitarian
work in EU neighbours and the developing world.
Back in 1997, the three Baltic National societies together
with Swedish colleagues got their first practical experience
with EU funding rules as part of a pre-accession organizational
development programme. It included English language classes
and computer training. "The programme was very useful,"
recalls Irena Bruziene from the Lithuanian Red Cross. "It
enabled us to integrate European standards into our programmes.
But it was only the beginning and we need to continue, especially
at branches pursuing EU funding opportunities. It's still
a big challenge."
Kristiina Kumpula, acting secretary general of the Finnish
Red Cross, remembers the day in 1995 when Finland joined the
EU: "At first we were quite reluctant to take advantage
of EU opportunities because the whole system seemed so complicated.
Subsequently, the European Commission assisted us with funding
opportunities. It was not easy to translate our programmes
into the 'EU-speak', but the problem was solved as we got
more involved in common activities."
EU enlargement also enables the Red Cross to build on its
long history of working in partnerships. "The EU will
bring in new partners both nationally and internationally,"
says Luc Henskens, the director of the Red Cross EU office
in Brussels, which mapped east-west Red Cross activities and
partnerships in the run-up to accession. He cites the European
Road Safety Campaign as an example — 26 European states
took part last year.
"This was a real capacity-building exercise which proved
that the best way forward is learning by doing. It helped
to strengthen relations with local authorities and other organizations
in the common effort to reduce risks on the roads," he
In addition, some societies have already tested other models
of European cooperation. These include partnerships between
the Nordic and Baltic states and a recent Austrian Red Cross
initiative with its Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Slovenian
"The National Societies are producing initiatives to
come together and solve problems by themselves," explains
Lynette Lowndes, head of the International Federation's Europe
department. "Now that the EU is bringing countries together,
ties will inevitably become stronger."
"The EU for us means more obligations and increased
EU institutions also present new platforms for advocacy.
For most National Societies in the region, the hope is that
by speaking out with one voice and working together they can
make a positive contribution to regional humanitarian needs.
This can be done through the nine EU Red Cross networks,
such as the Platform for European Red Cross Co-operation on
Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants (PERCO) or the European
Network on HIV/AIDS (ERNA). These networks enable National
Societies to lobby jointly EU governments.
Scholastyka Sniegowska of the Polish Red Cross puts reinforced
advocacy among the most important benefits that EU enlargement
offers National Societies. "Some 25 Red Cross societies
can advocate together and put much more pressure on EU leaders,"
she says. Kristiina Kumpula adds: "The new EU constitution,
migration policy, European security and human rights are only
a few issues where the Red Cross can voice its position and
"The EU for us means more obligations and increased
competition," says Srecko Zajc. "Our priorities
will have to be updated. We'll need clearer criteria for assistance
for existing and new vulnerable groups. Among the growing
competition in the humanitarian field, the Slovenian Red Cross
needs to be more concentrated. It will focus on children facing
domestic violence, including those in the families of drug
EU enlargement will not in itself solve the humanitarian
problems facing the region. People trafficking, illegal migration,
HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases and poverty still need to
be addressed, if they are not to erode the benefits of enlargement.
But enlargement is a "unique chance to address the existing
humanitarian needs that affect the whole of Europe, in particular
HIV/AIDS, trafficking and migration," says Maya Sverdruip
of the Danish Red Cross.
Margarita Plotnikova is a freelance writer based in Budapest.
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