President Barroso and COMECE Bishops committed to unity in diversity in the European Union
The COMECE Bishops and the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, shared an exchange on the role of the Church in consolidating the new European Union in a meeting, which took place during COMECE’s Spring Plenary in Brussels from 9-11 March 2005.
Meeting with Barroso
The highlight of the plenary was the first meeting between the Bishops and Commission President Barroso. A wide range of issues were discussed including the renewal of the Lisbon Strategy, the ratification process of the European Constitutional Treaty, and the responsibility of the EU to its neighbours.
In discussions on the Lisbon Strategy, particularly in light of COMECE’s recent publication entitled “Strengthening the European Social Model – Ideas for a renewed Lisbon Strategy of the European Union”, the Bishops reiterated the need for economic success as a tool to support and strengthen the European social model.
They called upon President Barroso to actively engage with the Churches in a partnership for change in order to realise a Europe based on values, in areas such as work life, families and research. Mr Barroso asserted that the EU and the Church share very similar values as both are committed to creating unity in diversity. As such he agreed that a qualitative dialogue and exchange is essential in order to pursue these shared ideals of a Europe united in peace and freedom.
The Bishops acknowledged that “the Constitutional Treaty introduces the reforms which are necessary to cope with current challenges inside and outside the European Union.” They stressed the importance of an informed and open debate during the ratification process in the Member States.
Acknowledging the engagement and investment of the EU in the Balkans, the Bishops underlined the continuing challenges in the areas of reconciliation, stabilisation, governance, the rule of law and the development of a strong civil society. They pointed to the need and readiness of the Church to actively contribute to stabilisation. They expressed their conviction that Croatia and the EU start accession talks in the near future. Given the recent historic events in the Ukraine, the Bishops welcomed the EU’s response to the change of administration and moves to encourage closer ties between the Union and the Ukraine.
The Bishops welcomed the EU’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. They further called upon President Barroso to lead the international community in this respect to ensure that there is solidarity with the world’s poor, both within the EU and beyond its borders, particularly in developing countries. They stressed the importance of solidarity in the new financial perspectives for 2007-2013 between the more prosperous and poorer EU Member States.
President Barroso acknowledged the important role that the Church has played throughout the history of European integration and welcomed the publication of a theological reflection on European construction published by COMECE entitled ‘The Future of the European Union and the responsibility of Catholics.”
Both parties supported the renewal of the Barcelona Process, particularly as a tool to enhancing peace in the Middle East. The Bishops expressed their willingness to engage in an inter-religious dialogue in order to complement the Barcelona Process. Mr Barroso identified the need for co-operation between the EU and the USA in this area and welcomed COMECE’s proposal for a seminar to be held in Brussels between bishops from the EU and the USA in September.
Millennium Development Goals & EU Solidarity
During the course of the Plenary, the Bishops discussed these important issues with representatives of the European Commission, including Mr Louis Michel, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Mr Klaus Regling, Director General of the Economic and Financial Affairs Directorate General, and Mr Pierre Defraigne, Deputy Director General of the Trade Directorate General.
The Bishops noted the complexity of development issues and committed themselves and the competent committees of the national Bishops’ Conferences to working together to co-ordinate a campaign to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals throughout the EU. They noted with interest ideas to establish an EU development strategy with concrete objectives and a calendar for their completion. Similarly, they welcomed the move by EU finance ministers to assess the idea of introducing a tax on aviation fuel. They underlined the importance of concrete displays of solidarity with people in the developing world, especially for those who come to the EU from developing countries to find refuge. They commissioned the Secretariat to provide further material on this issue.
The Future of the Europe Union
The text “The Future of the European Union and the responsibility of Catholics”, a major theological reflection on the European integration process, was written at the request of the COMECE Bishops as a follow up to the document provisionally entitled “Open our hearts”, published in 2003. The Bishops therefore commend it as a tool for reflection and debate on the ongoing European construction. This is a working document and the Bishops of COMECE would appreciate comments and responses. This will be published on 9 May 2005.
In view of the current ratification process of the European Constitutional Treaty, the Bishops took note of a document that endeavours to be a key to reading and better understanding the Treaty. This document entitled “The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe – Elements for an evaluation” will be utilised by the national Bishops’ Conferences as an instrument to encourage an informed debate.
Fundamental Rights Agency
The Bishops noted with interest steps towards the creation of an EU Fundamental Rights Agency that is due to be established in 2007. The COMECE committed themselves to monitoring and supporting the initiative especially with regard to respect for the dignity of the human person, as well as religious freedom and non-discrimination.
On 3 March 2005, COMECE completed twenty-five years of existence. The Bishops re-affirmed their commitment to the work that is conducted by COMECE at the European level. The Bishops recognise the importance of a dialogue and input on behalf of the Church in EU policy making. During the plenary, a soirée was held to reflect and debate the title ‘You, the Church in Europe, what place do you take in public life?’ The three keynote speakers included Cardinal Peter Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Sister Gisela Happ, Secretary General of the Alliance for International Monasticism (AIM), and Mr Stefan Wilkanowicz, Chairman of the Christian Culture Foundation “ ZNAK”.
The mandate of the current General Secretary, Mgr Noël Treanor was renewed.
COMECE is a commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the member states of the European Union. The Bishops’ Conferences of Romania, Croatia, and Bulgaria have observer status.
The following bishops participated in the Plenary Meeting on behalf of their Bishops’ Conferences: Bishop Josef Homeyer (Germany); Bishop Adrianus van Luyn (The Netherlands); Archbishop Hippolyte Simon (France); Bishop John Crowley (England & Wales); Bishop Jozef De Kesel (Belgium); Bishop Teodoro De Faria (Portugal); Archbishop Fernand Franck (Luxembourg); Bishop Piotr Jarecki (Poland); Bishop Anton Justs (Latvia); Bishop Vaclav Maly (Czech Republic); Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Ireland); Archbishop Joseph Mercieca (Malta); Bishop Giuseppe Merisi (Italy); Bishop Peter Moran (Scotland); Bishop Rimantas Norvila (Lithuania); Bishop Frantisek Rábek (Slovakia); Archbishop Ioannis Spiteris (Greece); Bishop Anton Stres (Slovenia); Bishop András Veres (Hungary); Archbishop Elias Yanes Alvarez (Spain); Bishop Virgil Bercea (Romania); Cardinal Josip Bozanic (Croatia); and Bishop Christo Proykov (Bulgaria).
The Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) was represented by Bishop Amédée Grab and Mgr. Aldo Giordano.
Mgr. Martin Krebs attended as the representative of the Holy See to the European Community.
Mgr. Vito Rallo attended as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe.