By Lisa Zengarini
A delegation from the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) met recently with Mr. Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, to offer policy recommendations for a fair and people-centred Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed).
During the online meeting on 18 January, the delegation presented the Commissioner with a document prepared by the COMECE in dialogue with local Church authorities, in view of the renewal of EU partnership with ten Mediterranean countries this year.
The renewal was announced in 2020, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Euromed (also known as the “Barcelona Process”), which brings together the 27 EU member States and 15 Mediterranean Countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
Respect for human rights
While welcoming the efforts of the European Union to help to create stability, peace and prosperity in the region, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, President of COMECE, called for “EU policy responses rooted in the Union's fundamental values and respectful of the human dignity and rights of every person, including migrants and refugees.”
Also present at the meeting was Archbishop Youssef Soueif of Tripoli of the Maronites (Lebanon). He emphasized that the EU should “support a culture of encounter in its Southern neighbourhood and contribute to fostering peace through education, dialogue, trust-building and respect for the socio-cultural and religious diversity, while promoting the concept of equal and full citizenship".
The document presented by the delegation contains more than 30 policy proposals in five priority areas, namely: Migration, Peace, Religious Freedom, Human Development and Integral Ecology.
Address root causes of migration
Regarding migration, COMECE calls for a more robust framework and dedicated resources to fight against its “root causes.” The Bishops urged respect for the “primary right” of persons and families to stay in their home country in safety and dignity, saying it needs to be “real and effective”.
According the European Bishops, the EU should also commit to guarantee the right of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people (IDP) to return to their home countries as soon as security conditions allow it, “supporting their reintegration in their societies.”
In this regard, they emphasize that it is of particular importance to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to provide the means for their return in a humane and orderly way. The document further highlights the need to protect unaccompanied migrant minors reaching the EU and to ensure that they are reunited to their parents or legal guardians.
Culture of encounter and fraternity
Regarding peace and security, the European Bishops call for a greater involvement of local religious leaders who can play a crucial role in the various contexts to strengthen social cohesion and promote a culture of encounter and of human fraternity.
The document also draws attention to the reality of discrimination experienced by religious minorities, specifically Christian communities, in some nations.
COMECE says the EU should make these situations visible in international fora, support the victims, and use its power and influence to stop (and prevent) violations of religious freedom, even by using international criminal law.
According to European Bishops, promoting the concept of "common citizenship" in all spheres of life, especially in schools and in the media, is the key to overcoming these violations.