Frédéric Simon in Brussels
Red Cross National Societies from Central and Eastern Europe will face new challenges and opportunities when their countries join the European Union (EU) in May 2004, says Luc Henskens, Director of the Red Cross/EU Office in Brussels.
Nine Red Cross Societies of the ten EU “accession States” met with the Coordination Group of the Red Cross/EU Office in Brussels on 16 and 17 May, and with representatives from the Federation Secretariat to discuss what the future holds in store for them. Red Cross representatives from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia were also informed about EU issues and systems.
How European political developments will influence the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in the future is not easy to predict. However, what is clear is that, as new states implement the full range of EU rules and practices, their National Red Cross Societies, in turn, will be influenced by these institutions.
Enlargement will also have an impact on the current 15 EU National Societies. At present the Red Cross Societies of Eastern and Central Europe are, in most cases, in contact with their international departments. The moment accession becomes reality, and even now to a certain extent, Red Cross Societies of the new States will become equal partners, according to EU legislation, and have access to all of the European Union’s funding mechanisms.
This will intensify networking between National Societies and will provide them with a valuable exchange of experiences and good practices, in a “learning by doing” approach.
In fact, the dense network of Red Cross Societies and their local branches in both current and future EU member states is one of the greatest strengths of the Federation in this part of Europe, allowing for successful applications to the European institutions to fund transcontinental projects.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, the Lithuanian Red Cross Secretary General Irena Bruziene, commented on the prospect of joining the Red Cross/EU Office as a full member.
She hopes EU membership will “help us create strong partnerships with other National Societies” on priority programmes such as social welfare.
She cites the European Commission’s Public Health Action programme as a good opportunity to build such partnerships and extend contacts with other National Societies.
But she is also aware that getting EU funding sometimes requires tedious paper work. “We have to learn how the structure and institutions of the EU work, and how to respond to calls for proposals,” she says.
She recalls the first project the Lithuanian Red Cross ran in cooperation with the Swedish Red Cross in 1997 as part of the TACIS pre-accession programme. The project was about capacity building in the three National Societies of the Baltic States and included English language classes, computerisation and general training for branches and headquarters. The programme was very useful, says Irena Bruziene, because it enabled the Lithuanian Red Cross to switch working habits to western standards.
Red Cross-EU office