“Ten years down the road from Eastwards enlargement of the EU, we still need to work to draw the different parts of Europe together”, so declares COMECE President Reinhard Cardinal Marx on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Eastern Enlargement of the European Union on 1 May 2004.
When the European Union underwent the biggest enlargement in its history on 1 May 2004, many spoke of a “reunified Europe”. Not only did this enlargement welcome into the Union more new member-states than it ever had before, the moment itself was truly historic. The incorporation of the Central and Eastern European states into the European Union was the consequence of the peaceful revolutions experienced by the former communist countries in 1989. This latter turning point of such significance not only for Europe but for the whole history of the world, will again return to our thoughts when in the autumn of this year we celebrate its silver jubilee. With the 1989 revolution and the enlargement of the EU in 2004, the chapter of the twentieth century history which opened with the First and Second World Wars came to a close.
When ten years ago the countries of Central and Eastern Europe joined the European Union, it was not simply the result of a straightforward decision of a free people as was the case in earlier enlargements. These former communist countries had first to fight for their individual freedom before becoming members of the political community of the European family. The countries of Western Europe repeatedly promised those who found themselves behind the iron curtain that they would one day welcome them into their ranks. After the peaceful revolution of 1989 making these promises a reality became a concrete challenge for both the West and the East of our continent. After decades of being divided, Europe now had to grow together.
The enlargement of 2004 resulted in a real reunification of Europe. Deepening the unity between East and West within the European Union still remains a challenge. Mentalities and perspectives continue to be marked by a diversity of experience. It still remains the case that reconciliation and the sense of common calling is one of the central driving forces behind European integration. Ten years after the enlargement we still face the challenge of finding common purpose in Europe.
The churches and the religious communities in Europe have a particular duty to make their unique contribution to the family of nations which is the EU. The canonization of Pope John Paul II last weekend invites us to renew our appreciation of the contribution of this great Polish pope to the collapse of communism, to the overcoming of division within Europe and to the accession of Central and Eastern European countries into the EU. John Paul II spoke of Europe’s two lungs, one the West the other the East. Eastern and Western Europe are quite distinct. They have characteristic traits and specific identities and yet they are integral components of the same organism and live in interdependence. The legacy of St. John Paul II challenges the Church as well as the world of politics to walk hand in hand in East and West so as to reach the goal of true unity in Europe.
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