Social dimension of Europe vital, churches tell EU Presidency

By agency reporter
March 12, 2013

European economic governance needs to be balanced by a social dimension, says a message to the EU Presidency from Churches in Europe.

At a meeting with the Irish EU Presidency in Dublin last last week, the European church leaders questioned the sense in discussing economic austerity without including measures for social cohesion.

Efforts aimed at the eradication of structural poverty and inequality should all be considered when measuring economic progress, they maintained.

This was the main focus of a delegation of church representatives from across Ireland and Europe who met with the Taoiseach Enda Kenny (the Irish Prime Minister). The meeting carried on the tradition of regular encounters between churches and EU Presidencies.

In what was described as "a cordial and open meeting", the delegation, representing the broad spectrum of Christian traditions in Ireland, raised a number of issues for consideration by the Irish EU Presidency including the social and economic crisis in Europe and development aid policy. The group was pleased with the sensitivity to their concerns shown by the Taoiseach and the other members of his delegation.

The meeting was organised by the Irish Council of Churches on behalf of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE).

The delegation highlighted the social consequences of the severe economic crisis in the European Union and stated that those consequences were evident in the parishes of all of the churches and were a key concern for churches at local, regional and national level.

The Irish churches were particularly concerned about the impact of austerity on present and future generations and on the most vulnerable in society.

While acknowledging that employment and the creation of jobs in Europe was one of the main requirements in overcoming the crisis, the churches highlighted the increased numbers of working poor.

They urged that a common weekly day of rest, which they described as being a clear and visible sign for the reconciliation of personal, family and professional life, be included in the revision of the working time directive.

They also called for greater participation of civil society, social partners and social actors in shaping the National Reform Programs, the National Social Reports and the Country Specific Recommendations.

Looking more widely, the delegation stressed that development aid continues to transform lives and highlighted the importance of EU member states recommitting to meeting overseas development aid targets by 2015.

However, the churches spoke of the need to use aid to work towards a situation where countries no longer need aid. To reach that point revenue authorities in developing countries need to be able to collect the correct amount of tax from multinational companies operating in their jurisdiction.

Strengthening the capacity of revenue authorities in these countries is important, but tackling the accounting rules and financial regulations that enable this to happen is crucial, the group said.

Highlighting recent successful negotiations on banking regulation in Europe completed under the Irish Presidency, the church representatives called for strengthened negotiations on four major areas.

First, defending the agreement reached on banking reform (CRD) between the Council, Parliament and Commission.

Second, including a robust review clause in the Accounting and Transparency Directives that allows for the inclusion of additional sectors, and more detailed information similar in scope to that agreed in the banking reform agreement,

Third, working towards tackling the insidious impact of tax havens.

And fourth, implementing the recommendation to OECD countries contained in the 2011 OECD/IMF/UN/World bank report 'Supporting the Development of More Effective Tax Systems', to conduct a spill over analysis of domestic tax policy to ensure there are no negative consequences for developing countries.

The delegation consisted of Archbishop Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland (Anglican) Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland; the Rev Fr Godfrey O'Donnell, President of the Irish Council of Churches and Chair of Orthodox Network of Churches; Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne; Ms Gillian Kingston, Lay Leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Dr Nicola Rooney, Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Episcopal Conference; Dr Kenneth Milne, Coordinator of European Engagement group, Irish Council of Churches/Irish Inter Church Meeting; Mervyn McCullagh, Executive Officer, Irish Council of Churches/Irish Inter Church Meeting; the Rev Frank-Dieter Fischbach, Executive Secretary of CEC - Church and Society Commission; Fr Patrick Daly, General Secretary of COMECE, and Michael Kuhn, Vice General Secretary of COMECE.

The meeting took place within the framework of Article 17 of the EU Treaty establishing a regular dialogue between churches and the European Union.


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