Europe needs dialogue and shared values, say church leaders

By staff writers
18 Dec 2006

An ecumenical (inter-church) consultation of senior Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican leaders has issued a statement to Europe’s major politicians – arguing that constructive dialogue among peoples, religions and civic institutions is the way forward for the continent and the EU, underpinned by political pluralism and neutrality.

The document charts a middle way between the Roman Catholic emphasis on the renewal of a specifically Christian heritage for Europe as central to its development (the Berlin declaration), and efforts by others to elevate a version of secularism based on marginalizing religious contributions to the future of European institutions.

Security through peace, integration (including the possible accession of Turkey) and a globalization emphasizing the needs of the poor and the planet are at the heart of the document – which says that Christian faith can assist the development of common values, rather than usurping others.

The document has been compiled and issued under the auspices of the Conference of European Churches’ Church & Society Commission.

The statement, in full, reads as follows:

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Rome Treaties, Church leaders and participants from 50 churches and 28 countries from all over Europe met on 12-13 December 2006 in Brussels at the invitation of the Church & Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches. We met at a time when the debate on the Future of Europe and of the European Union Constitutional Treaty is at a crossroads.

With our churches we prepare for the third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, in September 2007. There, women and men from almost every church in Europe will be reflecting on what it means to be a church in Europe today.

We want to share with you, the political leaders of Europe, our concerns and hopes for the future of Europe and our role within it. In particular, our conviction is that the European integration process must continue, based on shared values and common vision.

1. Europe – a Continent United in Diversity

As European integration developed, common vision and commitment to shared values were reflected in the institutions which gave effect to the process. The Council of Europe and the OSCE foster a Europe built on respect for human rights, religious freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Reconciliation and solidarity were the foundation stones of what is now the European Union.

Fundamental values must be kept alive and put into practice as guidelines for shaping policy. Today most of the people of Europe enjoy freedom and fundamental human rights and are no longer faced with war and violent conflicts. However, the negative consequences of Europe’s divided past are still evident and, if they are to be overcome, full realization of those original values is required. European institutions and their Member States have a role in ensuring that those values are maintained.

While parts of Europe have been moving towards greater unity, diversity remains characteristic of the continent’s identity. This diversity of cultures, traditions and religious identities must be respected. Europe is not synonymous with the EU. The EU has a responsibility to work closely with all European countries and to ensure that its neighbourhood policies lead to just, fair and supportive relations with its neighbours. We urge Europe’s politicians to renew their commitment to seek a common European vision, common values and policies.

2. Europe – A Continent of Shared Values

2.1. Peace and Reconciliation

European integration still plays a major role in ensuring peace and reconciliation between the EU’s Member States. Expansion of the EU following the end of the Cold War led to the hope that war and violent conflict between all European countries will similarly become unthinkable. The EU plays an ever-increasing role in conflict prevention and resolution. We want it to balance the recent enhancement of its military capacity by strengthening non-military initiatives, such as the establishment of a European Peace Institute to investigate, support and strengthen the common efforts of European countries in non-violent forms of conflict prevention, mediation and conflict management.

2.2. European Integration

European integration invites people to develop relationships and is not just about the political and economic dimensions. Deepening relationships and geographical enlargement are inseparable and must go hand in hand. We therefore welcome the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in January 2007.

The prospect of EU membership has raised hopes and initiated reform processes in the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey. Commitment to agreed principles, to the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and support of the population are essential as the association and accession processes proceed.

As people from different cultures and traditions in Europe come closer together, we want to highlight the importance of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. Europe is home for people of many nations, cultures and religions. We invite other religions to a dialogue on common concerns. Europe is also a haven for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The importance of protecting persons who face persecution, violent conflicts and the injustice of economic structures needs to be underlined. We want to offer a contribution to the “Year of inter-cultural dialogue” in 2008. Such valuable one-off initiatives are, however, not enough. We urge political leaders to support measures for a sustained, long-term dialogue and commit ourselves to working with you.

2.3. Europe and Globalisation

Europe’s wealth starkly contrasts with the conditions of people in many parts of the world. The EU and other European states have a responsibility to work for a balanced world economy with just trade relations, equitable migration policies and an end to economic exploitation. Currently European actions too often lead people in the developing world to see them working in the opposite direction.

Disparity of wealth distribution in Europe also needs addressing. Europe’s wealth contrasts with unemployment in Europe and a growing gap between rich and poor. Churches and their social programmes see the effects at grassroots level where they are often the last resort for those who have fallen through the safety net of welfare systems.

Europe’s wealth also means that it has resources to “burn”. In response to climate change, the EU has to continue its leading role by ensuring that all its Member States honour their commitments under the Kyoto protocol and urgently pursue further development of the Kyoto protocol. There is also an urgent need to develop initiatives where energy is derived from renewable sources. The EU energy policy needs to address environmental and economic aspects of where energy is produced.

Social, economic and ecological issues are set firmly in the context of globalisation - a process with both opportunities and challenges. The contrast of poverty and wealth is maintained through a materialistic economic value system with harmful consequences on human relationships, cultures and human identity. We urge political leaders to develop a better balance between economic, social and ecological policies in which social and ecological policies are an integrated part of overall policy and not simply an addendum to economic policy. This needs to be at the forefront as Germany takes the Presidency of the EU and the G8 presidency in 2007.

2.4. Europe for People

People feel detached from the ever more complex decision-making process of the EU Institutions. The churches welcome initiatives to engage in dialogue with EU citizens, such as “Plan D”, fostering Democracy, Dialogue and Debate. However, we are concerned that it has not had a significant impact so far. Churches look forward to supporting and participating in the “Citizens for Europe” initiative and hope real efforts will be made to engage in real dialogue with all sectors of society. This would give effect to the “open transparent and regular dialogue” foreseen in articles I-47 and I-52 of the EU Constitutional Treaty.

The churches, having been actively engaged in the Constitutional Treaty process, gave it a qualified welcome. Churches remind politicians, to listen to the voices of the people, especially those who feel that there is too much emphasis on military objectives and insufficient funding for programmes tackling the social dimension. We will commit ourselves to and will actively seek to facilitate dialogue and encourage participation with people at a local level across Europe to shape the future face of Europe.

EU enlargement, recent and future, calls for a more effective and transparent decision-making process. We encourage political leaders to reach and codify a binding agreement based on a vision of a just, sustainable and participatory Europe.

3. Europe - Hope and Commitment

Europe’s history has been marked not only by wars and violent conflicts, in which churches have sometime been implicated, but also by new developments in politics, economics, science and culture. Revitalisation of Christian faith will assist European societies to retain their identity and to develop values which make up the core of European culture.

We are committed to defend basic values against infringement of every kind and to resist any attempt to misuse religion for political purposes. Further, we are committed, as far as possible together, to communicating our concerns and visions to the secular European institutions. In this way we seek to make our contribution to the future of Europe and so to make it a continent of hope.

We place our hope in God as expressed in the letter of Apostle Paul to Romans which encapsulates the spirit of the Charta Oecumenica: ‘May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ (Romans 15.13).

See also: Conference of European Churches - http://www.cec-kek.org

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