“COMMON VALUES MUST BE THE BASIS OF THE EUROPEAN PROJECT”
Churches visit the EU Presidency, The Hague 11 October 2004
Values such as freedom and solidarity, democracy, human rights and human dignity must form the basis of the European project. The churches have an important role in reminding societies and governments about these values as well as in promoting their implementation – such were the sentiments expressed by the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm concluding the discussion on European values with the churches’ representatives at a meeting on 11 October.
Given the churches’ role in promoting and implementing common values, the Deputy Prime Minister invited the churches to participate in and contribute to the process on European values, launched by the EU Presidency earlier this year. The process will culminate in a final consultation on European citizenship on 4 December in Den Haag. The churches’ representatives at the meeting urged that there should be a close link between commonly-held values and EU policies. In particular, they raised the question as to whether the discussion on norms and values could be linked to the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy. Mgr Noel Treanor from the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences in the European Communities (COMECE) and Rev Rüdiger Noll from the Conference of European Churches (CEC) Church and Society Commission asked: “How are values such as human dignity, justice and non-discrimination reflected in the EU Lisbon strategy, which aims at making the EU the most competitive and knowledge-based economy in the world? How do values influence the EU framework budget for 2006-2012”.
The meeting in Den Haag was the latest in a series of meetings between the respective EU Presidencies and the churches. The churches were represented in the meeting by Mgr van Luyn, the Bishop of Rotterdam and Vice-President of COMECE, Rev Drs Ineke Bakker, General Secretary of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, Rev Prof Dr E.J.J.M. Kimman S.J., Secretary General of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, Dr Sophie van Bijsterveld and J.L.W Zuijdwijk, General Secretaries of the churches’ contact group with the Dutch government. The meeting was scheduled at the request of COMECE and CEC’s Church and Society Commission, which were represented respectively by General Secretary Mgr Noel Treanor and Director Rev Rüdiger Noll.
The delegation was received by the Deputy Prime Minister in place of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who is still in hospital. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance was accompanied by Mr van Zutphen, Director of the Europe Department of the Foreign Ministry and several Counsellors from the Prime Minster’s office.
Other issues raised at the meeting included the enlargement of the European Union, Security and Inter-Religious Dialogue, Migration and the Ratification Process of the Constitutional Treaty of the EU.
The discussion on the EU enlargement focused mainly on the accession of Turkey to the EU. In the opinion of the churches’ representatives, Turkey’s status as a predominantly Muslim nation is not in itself an obstacle to accession negotiations. There are questions, however, as to whether Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen criteria, inter alia with regards to the implementation of human rights and in particular religious freedom and minority rights. In his response Mr Zalm emphasised that the European Commission’s recommendations only saw “sufficient progress” in Turkey on these matters. It is our understanding, that for the first time in the EU history, we might embark on open-ended accession talks. They might lead to a full membership, but they also might be suspended or cancelled, if progress does not continue. The final decision will have to be taken by the heads of state and government at the Summit in December – Minister Zalm asserted.
The churches’ representatives as well as the Deputy Prime Minister both emphasised the importance of inter-religious dialogue as an important element of conflict prevention. Efforts should be undertaken to include existing structures for inter-religious dialogue in the present discussions on the political level.
With regard to migration, the churches’ representatives shared with the Dutch government a document with 12 recommendations, which were developed jointly by the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), COMECE, the International Catholic Migration Commission, the Jesuit Refugee Service-Europe and the Quaker Council for European Affairs. In addition, issues related to the integration of migrants, the Draft Directive on Asylum Procedures as well as the co-operation of some EU governments on returning refugees via Euro Charter flights were addressed.
The meeting, which took place in a very open and friendly atmosphere, concluded by discussing in how the EU, governments and the churches could play a constructive role in the ratification process of the EU Constitution. CEC as well as COMECE are committed to facilitate the process with information for the churches in Europe.
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The Conference of European Churches (CEC) is a fellowship of some 125 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic Churches from all countries of Europe, plus 40 associated organisations. CEC was founded in 1959. It has offices in Geneva, Brussels and Strasbourg.
COMECE is the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the 25 member states of the EU.