EU Public Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Research, Economic Crisis and Data protection discussed with the Cyprus EU Presidency
Joint COMECE-CEC Press release
A delegation of Cypriot and European Church representatives was received by the Cypriot Deputy Minister for European Affairs Andreas D. Mavroyiannis on 6 October in the Presidential Palace in Nicosia as part of the series of regular encounters between Churches and EU Presidencies. They had an exchange of views concerning a series of topics related to the agenda of the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The discussion between church representatives and H.E. Mr Mavroyiannis addressed several human rights issues, in particular on the implementation of freedom of religion or belief in the whole of Cyprus. The church representatives stressed the need for the protection and full accessibility of worship places and holy sites in the occupied part of the country.
Concerning the European External Action Service (EEAS) “Guidelines” on the freedom of religion or belief, the churches underlined the importance for the EU to also collect reliable data on the implementation of freedom of religion or belief outside the Union and to ask the EU to establish appropriate mechanisms and capacities in the Union to quickly react to the violation of freedom of religion in other parts of the world. Once the EEAS guidelines are adopted, the churches suggest that an evaluation should be conducted every 3 years. In the further development of the EU guidelines, as well as in monitoring their implementation, CEC of CSC and COMECE are ready to put their expertise and worldwide presence at the disposal of the EEAS. The church representatives reminded the Cypriot EU Presidency that double standards on human rights issues inside and outside of the EU are to be avoided. Mr Mavroyiannis responded that the Cyprus Presidency will follow the work closely on the EU Guidelines on freedom of religion or belief and that the member states are already deep in the process. The Presidency expressed appreciation for the support of the churches in the process.
With regard to the financial and economic crisis, the churches asked the EU to work on the outcome of the crisis, while paying constant attention to the most vulnerable in the society. Churches underlined that the costs of the crisis cannot be primarily paid for by the middle and lower income sectors of the society and especially by the youth not finding decent employment. According to the church representatives, solidarity within states and among EU member states must be a key value to be implemented particularly in times of crisis. The Cypriot Minister for European Affairs confirmed that a better quality of life and standards of living for all people are at the heart of the Cyprus EU Presidency as well as of the European integration process as a whole.
Concerning Horizon 2020, the research programme of the EU from 2014 to 2020, several churches consider it as an ethical and legal problem that the proposal of the European Commission does not exclude funding of research in human embryonic stem cells (hESC), whose procurement entails the destruction of human embryos. Any funding of research which implies the procurement or the use of hESC should be explicitly excluded. The proposals do not take into consideration the recent ruling of the European Court of Justice in the case Greenpeace v. Brüstle. The Court clearly defines the human embryo as a human ovum, as soon as fertilized, or as the product of cloning, and confirms that biotechnological inventions using hESC cannot be patented.
The representatives of the churches also referred to the field of data protection. They expressed the hope and expectation that the implications for church activities deriving from the proposal presented by the European Commission this year can be taken into full account. The specificities of churches and of the relevant national approaches were identified as an important element. Mr Mavroyiannis responded that it is important to protect the confidentiality of data and that a discussion on the matter of ethical committees is in order.
Churches in Europe encouraged the Cyprus Presidency to promote discussions on inner-EU solidarity in asylum matters as an integral part of the Common European Asylum System, in particular at the next JHA Council as well as to continue discussions on protection of refugees fleeing Syria and to promote the adoption of Council conclusions on the recent Commission “strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings”. The EU institutions should take into consideration the full implication of the recent ECJ case Germany v. Y and Z and protect through the asylum system religious minority members seeking for asylum in the EU. Mr Mavroyiannis welcomed the churches involvement in the process and encouraged churches to be active in their work on the promotion and protection of human rights and all other issues discussed.
The churches´ delegation for the meeting with the Deputy Minister for European Affairs:
-Orthodox Church of Cyprus, CEC: Archimandrite Benedict Ioannou
-Catholic Delegation: Bishop Youssef Soueif, Archbishop of the Maronites of Cyprus
The European Church organisations were represented by:
- Mag. Elizabeta Kitanovic, Executive Secretary for Human Rights and Communication, Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC)
- Mgr. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, General Secretary of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE)
COMECE is the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, and comprises 26 Bishops representing all Member States of the EU. For more than thirty years now, COMECE has been accompanying the process of European integration, and offering its reflections. COMECE is now a partner of the EU institutions in the dialogue foreseen by Article 17 (3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.