The protection of human dignity, social cohesion and sustainable development must be at the heart of EU policies
On Tuesday 12 October, representatives of the churches in Belgium and in Europe met with the Belgian EU-Presidency in Brussels. This meeting took place in the framework of Article 17 of the EU Treaty establishing a regular dialogue between churches and the EU. It also follows a well-established tradition of meetings between the churches and the rotating EU Council Presidencies. The Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, received the church representatives for a one hour meeting at his residence.
The churches' representatives addressed the following issues in relation to the Belgian EU Presidency:
- Poverty and Social Exclusion in Europe: in follow-up to the many activities and contributions of the churches in the framework of the "European Year 2010 for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion", as well as to the development of an EU 2020 Strategy, the churches' representatives reiterated their plea for re-strengthening the model of a social market economy which keeps competitiveness in balance with social cohesion and the limits to growth. "The protection of human dignity, social cohesion and sustainable development in a globalised world must be at the heart of EU policies", they stated. In view of increasing poverty in Europe and worldwide and the envisaged European Platform on Poverty as a flagship initiative of the EU 2020 strategy, the churches demanded a strong involvement of civil society and of the churches, in addressing these issues.
The Prime Minister, in his response, emphasised that the European Union is not just an economic space but a value-driven community, even if due to the financial and economic crisis, questions of economic governance seem to have taken dominance at present. He envisaged an important discussion on European social standards would emerge rather soon and he indicated his willingness to work with the churches on issues related to social cohesion beyond the Belgian EU Presidency.
With regard to the External Service of the EU, the delegation raised three issues: the importance of religious freedom being protected in the foreign relations of the EU and the important balance between commercial and political interests in EU relations with other countries. In relation to religious freedom, the special situation in Turkey and the importance of stressing the implementation of religious freedom for all communities in the country as part of the accession negotiations was highlighted.
The Belgian Presidency declared its to support the introduction of religious freedom as a fundamental right to be promoted within the future External Action Service and the Prime Minister promised to take active steps to this effect.
The churches' delegation also discussed the implementation of the "open, transparent and regular dialogue" between the Union and the communities of faith and conviction (Art. 17c TFEU). An interest was expressed in implementing such a dialogue also on the national level.
Finally, in view of the upcoming 16th Conference of Parties to the Convention of Climate Change in Cancún (Mexico, 29 November to 10 December 2010), the churches' representatives asked the EU to assume leadership in combating climate change. The churches expressed their hope that an agreement could be reached which goes beyond the proposed reduction of CO2 emissions by 20 per cent. Recalling the essential Christian conviction of a ‘preferential option for the poor', the churches urged getting the ‘Fast Start Finance Mechanism', as agreed in Copenhagen, started and sufficiently equipped.
The Church and Society Commission of CEC and COMECE welcomed the quality of the exchanges throughout the Belgian Presidency of the EU and were particularly pleased with the commitment of Prime Minister Leterme to follow up on some of the proposals presented by the churches. The dialogue between the churches and the Belgian EU Presidency is a good example of the "open, transparent and regular dialogue" between the EU and the communities of faith and conviction.
The Churches' delegation was composed of :
• H.E. Mgr. Guy Harpigny, Bishop of Tournai
• Dr. Guy Liagre, President of the United Protestant Church of Belgium
• H.G. Bishop Athenagoras, Ecumenical Patriarchate
• Mr. Jef Felix, President of Justice and Peace Network Flanders
• Ms. Axelle Fischer, General Secretary of Justice and Peace and Pax Christi, Wallonia-Brussels
• Rev. Marc Lenders, United Protestant Church of Belgium
Canon Dr. Robert Innes, President of the Central Committee of the Anglican Church in Belgium
• Rev. Rüdiger Noll, Director of the Church and Society Commission of CEC
• Mgr. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, General Secretary of COMECE.