(Brussels) “Europe is the homeland of people of many faithful, and every European has the right to practice his faith in security and peace”, said Frans Timmermans, first Vice-President of the Commission, welcoming to Brussels the representatives of the major churches and religious communities present in EU Countries. The meeting – the 14th official meeting between the European Union and the Churches, as enshrined in Art. 17 of the EU Treaty – saw the presence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders. The theme at the centre of the debate was: “The future of Europe: addressing challenges through concrete action.”
During the meeting, Vice-President Timmermans, who has been entrusted with the dialogue with Churches by the Juncker Commission, said: “Ahead of next year’s European elections, I reassured the participants in today’s meeting that the European Commission will continue to stand up and speak up against any discrimination or attacks that their communities might face.” He went on: “Every European citizen will have a chance to shape our common future at the ballot box next year, and I invited the participants in today’s meeting to engage actively in the political process and to encourage their communities to do so as well. While we may worship in different ways, our values are universal, including our commitment to democracy and equality.”
The meeting between EU institutions and religious communities in Europe focused on the main policy challenges Europe faces in the next year, as well as the perspectives for the future, along with European Parliament elections. “Participants – states a EU press release – discussed in particular how the EU is addressing migration, social integration and the sustainability of our way of life.” Topical issues discussed during the meeting include religious freedom, the protection of fundamental rights, the social aspects of European integration, nationalisms and populism. In previous meetings, participants looked into the future of Europe through a number of challenges facing the European Union, in particular migration, terrorism and integration. The following religious dignitaries attended the meeting: Metropolitan Athanasios (Greek Orthodox Church), Imam Khalid Benhaddou (Islam), Mons. Mariano Crociata (bishop of Latina, First Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), Rabbi Albert Guigui, (Judaism), Msgr.. Antoine Herouard (bishop of Lille, COMECE), Robert Innes (Anglican bishop), Frank July (Evangelical Church, Germany), Christian Krieger (president, Conference European Churches – CEC).
”I perceived a positive, constructive atmosphere, of warmth and mutual respect”, Msgr. Mariano Crociata told SIR at the end of the meeting. “The Commission’s approaching end-of-term and the upcoming elections of the European Parliament, along with concerns linked to the present political climate in various countries, somewhat affected the meeting.” Mons. Crociata underlined “various aspects of trust that emerged during the meeting, starting from a favourable attitude towards the EU which is generally registered among young people.” In fact speakers pointed out numerous times that a majority of young voters in the Brexit referendum chose “remain” over a divorce from the EU.
Mons. Crociata highlighted “several topics addressed during the meeting, notably the migration issue. Participants underlined the Commission’s efforts to handle a complex phenomenon that entails national and Community responsibilities.” Several times, reference was made to “the fears registered across European populations, that are not always rationally-grounded and not always linked to immigrants’ presence.” This widespread feeling of insecurity has multiple causes, “exploited by unscrupulous politics marked by identity closures, rejection of strangers that escalate into episodes of racism.” In this sense “participants pointed out that religious communities can play an important role with regard to information and education” to ensure a more accurate interpretation of reality and to help understand the facts – and their consequences – as they occur today.
Among the issues discussed by EU representatives and religious leaders figure “environmental protection, understood as a global challenge”, pointed out Monsignor Crociata. Another complex theme regards “artificial intelligence and digitalization, linked to changes in the job market”, that requires the development “of criteria – currently being drawn up by the Juncker Commission – that prioritize the centrality of the human person.” “Participants addressed the relationship between politics, economy and financial stability”, viewed also as a tool to prevent future crises. “Europe’s role at international level was another area of interest, with special consideration for Africa.” The development of the African continent, in economic and democratic terms, is a question involving European countries (some of which have a “weighty” colonial past) and the EU as a whole, also with regard to the prevention of migratory inflows. Religious freedom “was among the central themese of our dialogue”, Mons. Crociata pointed out. “The Churches are fully aware of the role they can play to raise the awareness of the faith community on the importance of the European Union, for the good of its member Countries and peoples.”