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2000-03-29 00:21
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In rush for technology, don't forget people, ecumenical official
tells Europe
ENI-00-0109

By Stephen Brown
Geneva, 23 March (ENI)--As the leaders of the European Union's
member states gather in Portugal for a special summit on ways to
promote economic growth, a senior European church official has
warned against the "human dimension" becoming lost in an era of
technical advance and globalisation.

European Union (EU) leaders began their summit in the Portuguese
capital of Lisbon today (23 March). High on their agenda is the
search for ways to promote economic competitiveness and the use
of new information technology to generate economic growth.

However, Keith Jenkins, director of the Commission on Church and
Society of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), warned of
the need to "find ways of maintaining the human dimension of
life".

Referring to the recent announcement that a major German car
manufacturer, BMW, is selling off its British subsidiary, Rover,
with the likely loss of thousands of jobs in Britain, he warned
that in a situation where the "market has become global", the
principles underlying social protection in Europe might be
"overturned".

CEC's commission on church and society monitors developments in
the EU and other European institutions on behalf of CEC's 125
Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox member churches.

Jenkins was speaking to ENI by telephone from Brussels, where he
is based, after a meeting on 21 March between a delegation from
the church and society commission and Romano Prodi, president of
the European Commission, the executive body that runs the
day-to-day affairs of the EU. It was the first such meeting since
Prodi, a former Italian prime minister, became commission
president last year.

The basic message of the CEC delegation to Prodi was that "civil
society" needed to be involved in the process of European
integration, Jenkins said, and that "churches have a role to
play". The delegation also raised issues such as the enlargement
of the European Union to include countries in eastern and
southern Europe, the situation in the Balkans and an EU project
to draw up a charter on "fundamental rights".

President Prodi believed that churches could play a role in
helping to define the "sense and purpose" of European
integration, Jenkins said. The commission president had also
emphasised the importance of reconciliation in Europe,
particularly in the Balkans.

Prodi had pointed out that he was often asked to send messages
to various church bodies, and urged church bodies to send
messages to the European institutions, saying that "churches in
Europe should make a greater input into the discussion about
European integration", Jenkins said.

Prodi was appointed commission president last year, after the
previous commission, then led by Jacques Santer, a former prime
minister of Luxembourg, resigned amid political arguments about
fraud and mismanagement. An official report accused the
commission of a "loss of control", and said that there had been
"a lack of supervision and accountability in the face of fraud
and wrongdoing within its service".

At the time of the commission's resignation, Jenkins called for
"openness, transparency and democratic accountability".

Asked whether there had been progress since the appointment of
the new commission under Romano Prodi, Jenkins said: "Clearly the
commission has made a start in terms of internal reforms and
processes, but changing a culture that has been there for some
time does take time."

He suggested that greater openness was needed in EU
institutions, pointing out that a key series of meetings between
EU member states about the future development of the EU was
taking place behind closed doors.

"Perhaps now could be a moment to change that, and take citizens
and other residents of EU member states into the confidence of
those who govern the EU," Jenkins said.

? Church leaders in Birmingham, where Rover's main car factory
is based in the city's Longbridge district, have attacked BMW for
selling off its Rover subsidiary, the Baptist Times reports.
Baptist minister Bob Casley, of Longbridge Baptist Church,
described the decision as "disgraceful".

He said: "The workers were told they had jobs for life if they
agreed to new contracts, which they signed, and did as they were
told. They have increased production and worked flexibly - people
have been walking around like zombies working 18-hour shifts at
times - and you can understand their anger and resentment.

"If BMW had put their backs into Rover five years ago, they
might have got somewhere. But it has been allowed to bleed to
death."