European Churches meet Slovenian EU Presidency:
Inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue needed more than ever
On 19 February a delegation of European and Slovenian churches was received by the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The meeting took place upon request of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences in the European Community (COMECE) and the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) as part of the series of regular meetings between the churches and the EU Presidencies.
Due to the events around the declaration of independence of Kosovo, issues of peace, stability and reconciliation in the Western Balkans figured high on the agenda, one of the priorities of the Slovenian presidency. Both the Slovenian Prime Minister and the churches’ representatives expressed their commitment to foster peace and reconciliation for the whole of the Balkan region. If there is any region in Europe where inter-cultural dialogue and inter-faith is needed it is the Western Balkans, the Prime Minister expressed in his response to the churches. And he welcomed the commitment and the contribution of the churches in the region as well as in Europe as a whole. The churches stressed the need for the EU to stay committed to the ultimate aim of a full EU membership for the states in the Western Balkans and to ensure through the EU Defence and Security Mission that human rights are fully implemented in Kosovo and in the region, especially for minorities. This includes also the protection and free access of holy sites and sites of worship.
Prime Minister Jansa thanked the churches for their commitment and contributions to the European integration process, in particular for their engagement in the debate around the Lisbon Reform Treaty. The European Union is different after the enlargement process, and the fact that Slovenia is the first new member state to assume the EU Presidency is a significant symbol of this development, he pointed out.
The churches’ delegation emphasized the need for a continued full involvement of religious communities in the inter-cultural dialogue and the 2008 European Year for Inter-Cultural Dialogue in brokering sustainable reconciliation and integration.
As the EU is developing benchmarks for the further accession talks with Turkey in the area of judiciary and fundamental rights, the churches underlined the importance for the EU to demand the full implementation of religious freedom in Turkey and to give religious communities a legal status.
Other issues on the agenda of the meeting included the revision of the European social agenda and issues related to European migration and asylum policies.
The church representatives handed over to the Prime Minister their recent responses to studies and communications of the European Commission with regard to the revision of the European social agenda. “Social coherence and adequate social protection are for the churches integral elements of a successful and sustainable Lisbon strategy,” Mgr Noel Treanor and Rev Rüdiger Noll emphasized on behalf of CEC and COMECE. “Social protection includes a European framework for EU member states to establish effective, accessible and high-standard social and health systems. The churches as a major provider of social and health services in Europe play an important role in this,” they added.
With regard to issues related to migration and asylum, the churches challenged the EU Presidency, inter alia, to reduce the temporary custody for illegally-staying non nationals, for the EU to join the Convention on Trafficking in Human Beings of the Council of Europe and to find lasting solutions with regard to Iraqi refugees.
Prime Minster Jansa welcomed the churches concerns and promised to take them into account as negotiations under the Slovenian EU Presidency continue. “We are looking forward to a continued dialogue with the churches and the religious communities”, he added. A further opportunity will be the meeting with religious leaders, to which the Presidents of the European Institutions are to invite in May.
The churches were represented in this meeting by: Rev. Rüdiger Noll, Director of the Church and Society Commission and Associate General Secretary of CEC, Bishop Geza Ernisa and President Dr Aleksander Kercmar from the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovenia as well as by Mgr Noel Treanor, General Secretary of COMECE and Bishop Anton Stres and Rev Tadej Strehovec OFM from the Slovenian Bishops’ Conference.