Catholic bishops in Europe support an expansion of the European Union (2024)

On May 1, 2004, ten Central and Eastern European countries joined the European Union, expanding the bloc from 15 to 25 members. Twenty years after this "big bang," which was then seen as a historic reunification of the Old Continent, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has urgently raised the question of EU expansion again. On April 22, in a statement on the sidelines of their spring assemblyin Łomża (Poland),theCommission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE)strongly reaffirmed their support for enlarging the EU. What arguments have influenced their stance? Do they consider the on-the-ground concerns?

Further reading:COMECE urges EU to equip workforce with “holistic approach” training

From the outset, the 27 European bishops claim to be "beyond being a geopolitical necessity for stability on our continent." They view the prospect of future EU membership as a powerful message of hope for the citizens of candidate countries and as a response to their desire to live in peace and justice.

A two-way process

While a 27-member Europe presents numerous challenges, whether in decision-making or European identity, French Archbishop Antoine Hérouard of Dijon, first vice-president of COMECE, rejects the notion of a lack of political realism or a naivety on the part of the bishops. "As religious leaders, we defend a moral standpoint that aligns with the European unity project pursued by the founding fathers," he said.

While Western European countries traditionally approach EU expansion with caution, Archbishop Hérouard recalls that Eastern European countries see their potential membership as a promise of development and security. Holding their assembly in Poland was, for the COMECE bishops, a sign of support for the former Eastern Bloc countries in favor of this expansion.

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COMECE bishops in their statement also note that “accession to the EU is a two-way process,”requiring ongoing "structural reforms" from candidate countries and committing the Union to take "concrete steps on the side of the Union to become ready to welcome new members."For Archbishop Hérouard, the EU expansion project "challenges the nature of the European project." "Is the EU a selfish club, or is it ready to welcome all European countries that share common values?"

A different paradigm

For Jean-Dominique Durand, a religious history specialist, "if this declaration may seem out of touch to some, it is primarily because it exists within a different paradigm" from the political order. He acknowledges, however, that it could be more attuned to concrete concerns and reminds that the expansion project raises "a multitude of moral and economic questions" such as, for instance, the agricultural competition between Poland and Ukraine.

"This publication, faithful to the Church's teachings, defends a principled position focused on fostering peace and justice," further explains the historian. The European bishops merely indicate directions true to this vision. It is then up to politicians to acknowledge this and "remember that the application is somewhat more complex."

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The question of EU expansion ultimately probes the boundaries of the continent. For Sébastien Maillard, special advisor at the Jacques-Delors European Research Institute, "Ukraine and the Balkan countries undoubtedly belong to the continent." He is not surprised by the bishops' support for this expansion perspective. "It is natural for European bishops to endorse this project, as it aligns with the Christian message of reconciliation. EU membership is also an act of healing memories."

COMECE, which consists of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences from each Member State of the European Union, was founded in 1980 with the endorsem*nt of the Holy See. It serves to represent the Bishops' Conferences of the EU before European institutions, engages in dialogue with these institutions by offering insights that advocate for the common good and a human-centered perspective in EU policymaking.

Toward a new "big bang"?

  • March 3, 1980: COMECE was established with the idea of facilitating dialogue between the Catholic Church and European institutions.
  • May 1, 2004: "Big bang" — Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia increase the number of EU member states from 15 to 25.
  • Since then, candidates have included: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Turkey. Accession negotiations with Turkey have been frozen since 2018.
  • March 12, 2024: COMECE calls for "a responsible vote that supports Christian values and the European project."
  • April 17-19, 2024: COMECE's spring assembly, organized in Łomża, Poland.

Further reading:EU Catholic bishops appeal for an end to Europe’s “madness of war”

Catholic bishops in Europe support an expansion of the European Union (2024)
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