On the occasion of the last 2020 meeting of the COMECE Standing Committee on Tuesday 15 December 2020, the Bishops also addressed the European Commission Strategy on “Staying safe from Covid-19 during winter”. While welcoming the efforts for a coordinated and sustainable EU approach against the current pandemic, COMECE urges the European institutions to consult with Churches and religious communities especially when considering recommendations that have an impact on religious matters.
Following the publication of the European Commission strategy “Staying safe from Covid-19 during winter” on Wednesday, 2 December 2020, COMECE recalls the commitment enshrined in Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). In this context, consulting with Churches and religious communities when references that also concern religious matters are being considered in EU documents is particularly crucial.
The document adopted by the European Commission recommends Member States to “consider avoiding large services or using online, TV or radio broadcast, in case of ceremonies, […] and banning of communal singing”. While understanding the concern behind the recommendation, COMECE cannot support the method for which the EU institutions opted in providing such an orientation.
Furthermore, COMECE would also like to highlight that Article 17.1 TFEU underlines the exclusive national competence for determining the relations between Church and State and the non-interference of the EU in these relations.
“The lack of EU competence – states Fr. Manuel Barrios Prieto, General Secretary of COMECE – should be a reason more for the EU institutions to involve religious authorities when considering non-binding recommendations on matters related to religious celebrations, in full respect of freedom of religion”.
As highlighted by the Presidents of all EU Bishops’ Conferences in a recent message addressed to the EU and the Member States, “the respect for the freedom of religion of believers in full respect of sanitary requirements is a crucial element for the Church in many EU Member States during the current pandemic”.
Non-binding EU recommendations on this matter, especially if taken without consulting with Churches and religious communities, may put at risk the efforts made in these recent months by EU Member States, together with local Churches and religious communities, to ensure that health measures are in place during celebrations, while avoiding violations of freedom of religion.