EU Bishops: Europe’s priority should be its people
The Bishops discussed the consolidation of the enlarged European Union, ratification of the Constitutional Treaty, the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey, and the successful application and implementation of the Lisbon Strategy in order to safeguard and further the interests of the European citizen. The Plenary Meeting of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community was held in Brussels from 18-19 November.
The New European Commission
The Bishops of COMECE welcome the confirmation of the new European Commission by the European Parliament and send their congratulations to the new President, Jose Manuel BARROSO. The Bishops underline the importance of the Commission’s mandate and the challenges it faces in serving the European common good. They also expressed their gratitude to the outgoing Commission President Romano PRODI.
The Bishops took note of the delayed confirmation of the first commission-designate following hearings in the European Parliament, which concluded that the overall competence of the commission was questionable. The Bishops welcome the democratic scrutiny of the political qualifications of the commissioner-designates. However, they regret the controversy that surrounded the appointment and personal opinions of Rocco BUTTIGLIONE, and the political impasse that followed. Some MEPs showed intolerance for the personal beliefs of the commissioner-designate instead of focusing upon his suitability for the political role for which he was nominated. They demand that freedom of religion and religious expression, accorded in the European Constitutional Treaty, be fully respected and implemented in all European institutions and in the wider Union.
The Bishops recognise the need to maintain good transatlantic relations between the United States of America and the European Union. Misperceptions and misunderstandings must be rectified between the two in order to foster a relationship based upon our common respect for law, our common interests and common values. Mr. John BRUTON, head of the European Commissions delegation in Washington D.C., outlined the benefits of an improved partnership between the EU and the USA, given their joint potential to institute a more peaceful world order. He highlighted areas in which the two can learn from one another, both in terms of approach and conduct. The Bishops emphasise the importance of co-operation and co-ordination between the USA and the EU, particularly in the fight against terror, in the strengthening of economic and trade policy, and in solidarity with developing and less-developed nations.
Reflections on Turkey
Two separate debates took place during the Plenary Meeting reflecting on Turkey. At the public debate Prof. Sylvie GOULARD, Dr. Marek GRELA, the Polish Permanent Representative to the EU, and Dr. Otmar OEHRING, Human Rights director of MISSIO lead the discussion on ‘Turkey and the European Union’ in view of the forthcoming European Council meeting. After serious discussions relating to the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey, the Bishops offer the following reflections:
“To decide whether Turkey can start negotiations with a view to acceding to the EU in the future, is a political and not a religious question. This political question deserves a wide discussion in European civil society.
For the Catholic Church, it is important that Turkey and the EU develop their relations in a constructive and amicable way. Religion does not constitute an obstacle for a country such as Turkey, with a majority Muslim population, from becoming a member of the EU. In any case, it is important that Turkey respects fundamental rights, for example the equality of status for women, freedom of speech and association and religious freedom.
Therefore, it must be asked whether it is appropriate to open negotiations with Turkey, whilst fundamental rights including religious freedom are not fully respected in that state. The European Commission has stated this fact in its Report of the 6 October 2004, yet it did not conclude that the opening of negotiations should be linked with the full respect of these rights.
The Bishops of COMECE propose that before negotiations for the transposition of the body of European legislation begin with Turkey, the Turkish government is required to correct shortcomings with regard to religious freedom and the legal status of minorities according to the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne 1923. They call upon the European Council to include this provision in the conclusions of its meeting on 16 – 17 December in Brussels.”
The spiritual and cultural dimensions of Europe
The Bishops applaud the initiatives aimed at reflecting and highlighting Europe’s spiritual and cultural dimensions launched by the outgoing European Commission President Romano PRODI and the current Dutch Council Presidency. Mr. René LERAY, adviser in DG External Relations of the European Commission, presented the conclusions of the advisory group who produced a report which reflected upon the spiritual and cultural dimensions of Europe. The group was established by President PRODI and headed by Professor Krzysztof MICHALSKI. The Bishops encourage the incoming Commission President BARROSO to continue with this initiative, whilst expanding and deepening the reflections afforded to the spiritual and cultural dimensions of Europe. They announced that COMECE will submit proposals which aim to strengthen recognition of the spiritual dimension of the Union. The Bishops look forward to further contributing to the debate on values at the final conference organised by the Dutch Presidency in The Hague on 4 December 2004.
The Constitution Treaty
The Bishops welcome the signature of the Constitutional Treaty and take note that it will enter into force after ratification in all member states. They stressed the importance of an inter-active and informed public debate in the course of the ratification process particularly in member states where a referendum will take place. The Constitutional Treaty does reflect the Christian view of the human being through the inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as the values and objectives of the European Union. But it is regrettable that there remains no reference to Christianity in the final version of the preamble to the text.
Recent events in the Netherlands
The Bishops are concerned about the situation in the Netherlands which has recently culminated in the death of van GOGH and the ensuing events. The cowardly attack on van GOGH and the successive burning of mosques and churches must never be repeated. Religious belief and ideology never legitimises violence.
The Lisbon Strategy
The Bishops acknowledge the primacy of the Lisbon Strategy to the future economic success of the European Union. They recognise that it is necessary to reform the European economy in order to safeguard the European social model, which is under threat from globalisation and demographic decline. The role of the family is of particular importance for the European social model, given its unique role in the delivery of services to society. After a presentation by Mr David WHITE, Director at DG Enterprise in the European Commission, entitled “The Lisbon Strategy: A priority for the European Union”, the Bishops went on to discuss the outcome of the Kok Report and the forthcoming mid-term review. The Assembly expressed their concern that the strategy so far has not proved to be successful and that a new approach is appropriate. Therefore, they decided to charge the vice-president of COMECE, Bishop VAN LUYN, together with other European Bishops to produce a memorandum on the renewal of the Lisbon Strategy. This memorandum will address questions relating to issues such as research funding, education, family, and labour markets.
In light of the EU’s enlargement and the growth in COMECE’s membership, the Bishops discussed the expectations, hopes and fears of the new members of COMECE. The Bishops agreed to review COMECE’s working methods accordingly.
COMECE is a Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community.
The following bishops participated in the Plenary Meeting on behalf of their Bishops’ Conferences:
Bishop Josef Homeyer (Germany); Bishop Adrianus van Luyn (Netherlands); Archbishop Hippolyte Simon (France); Cardinal Josip Bozanic (Croatia); Bishop Teodoro De Faria (Portugal); Bishop Jozef De Kesel (Belgium); Archbishop Fernand Franck (Luxembourg); Rev. Gintaras Grusas (Lithuania); Bishop Egon Kapellari (Austria); Bishop William Kenney (Sweden); Bishop Vaclav Maly (Czech Republic); Archbishop Darmuid Martin (Ireland); Bishop Giuseppe Merisi (Italy); Bishop Peter Moran (Scotland); Bishop Frantisek Rabek (Slovakia); Archbishop Ioannes Spiteris (Greece); Bishop Antón Stres (Slovenia); Bishop András Veres (Hungary); Archbishop Elias Yanes Alvarez (Spain)