we need a sense of belonging to a community
EU citizenship is an issue central to our European identity and promises to feature prominently in the debates preceding the 2014 European Parliamentary elections. In the context of the European Year of Citizens 2013, the EU Commission has sought the views of the Churches on this theme in the frame of the Dialogue Seminar on 20 June.
From the perspective of the EU Commission, Ms Chiara Adamo (DG Justice) presented the concept and elements of EU citizenship as well as the EU citizenship report 2013. Subsequently, Ms Sophie Beernaerts (DG Communication) focused in particular on the ‘Europe for citizens’ programme.
‘Why is EU Citizenship so unpopular?’ wondered the COMECE Bishop for England & Wales W. Kenney. In his speech, he stressed the failure, on several political levels, to fulfil three key principles of Christian social philosophy. Solidarity: national politicians are cutting social benefits without explanation. Subsidiarity: when decisions are taken at a level which people feel is not appropriate, they lose control at that level of decision making. Finally, human dignity: we have lost the sense that every person is equal in dignity, be it a poor fellow citizen or a migrant, and is our brother and sister.
So what are the ingredients of citizenship from a Christian point of view ?
It starts with a sense of memory and attachment to one’s roots. The orthodox Archbishop of Wrocław and Szczecin Jeremiasz, President of the Polish Ecumenical Council, underlined the importance of one’s homeland, not only in the sense of relationship to a geographical place but also to a very deep spiritual dimension. For Orthodox theology that means responsibility for divinisation (theosis). In this sense, the close relationship to a specific place on this earth enables people to be responsible citizens in the community of the nations.
The Protestant representative, Dr Peter Schreiner, President of the InterEuropean Commission on Church and School said: “Dialogue is a value in itself that needs continuation. It is worthwhile exchanging views and arguments but there is no need to agree on everything. Also a change of perspectives is needed from “us first” to “we together” to carry on for the sake of all people in Europe in joint activities including education.”
Citizenship seems to have three dimensions: belonging, being, becoming and this last element refers to a community of destiny. Europeans belong to a recent political structure which is still being developed. ‘We Christians are the architects, foot soldiers, engineers of an ambitious project which is still to be completed’ summed up Fr Daly, General Secretary of COMECE.
All these ingredients have to be bound together by two elements: a sense of rationality, since we are all interconnected (in fact not just in feeling) and commitment to each other. Our European citizenship emerges from this reality. However it is also grounded in the emotion and commitment to love your neighbour.
Yet, many women and men in Europe don’t feel included in this citizenship, because of their vulnerability (the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the prisoners) and the ongoing EU actions programmes do not always reach them. Churches and their organisations are key players in this field, by bringing together such groups and allowing them to express their concerns and needs. (i.e. what Caritas Europa brings about by gathering people from vulnerable groups together in focus groups in various Member States). This leads them to the full acknowledgement of their dignity as European citizens.
But EU Citizenship does not replace national citizenship: it’s complementary. Many difficulties remain among Member States in recognising the right to vote for EU Citizens who are residing in another Member State. In fact, often national governments seem to be reluctant to foster this sense of belonging to a European community: for example, the opposition of some governments to a reference to EU symbols (European flag and hymn) in the Lisbon Treaty and to the inclusion of the word ‘belonging’ itself in the ‘Europe for citizens’ programme.
In the context of the upcoming EU elections, Church representatives are convinced that, if citizens in Europe are given something to believe in, they will vote. This also brings up the question of the key importance of the will of the citizens in the further development and the future of the European project.
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.