By Lisa Zengarini
The participation of European Churches in the upcoming “Conference on the Future of Europe” was the main topic of discussion of a meeting held on January 28 between an ecumenical delegation of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Portuguese Presidency representative of the EU Council.
The Churches’ delegation was composed of Fr. Manuel Barrios Prieto, General Secretary of COMECE; Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, General Secretary of CEC José-Luis Bazán, COMECE Legal advisor for Migration and Asylum and Religious Freedom. Representing the Portuguese Government was Mr Nuno Brito, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the European Union.
The on-line meeting focused on the main priorities during the Portuguese six-month Presidency, namely the organisation of the "Conference on the future of Europe", a proposal announced in 2019 by the European Commission and the European Parliament, with the aim of implementing long-needed reforms in the EU institutions, which have been made even more urgent by the Covid-19 crisis.
The Conference is intended to involve citizens, including young people, civil society and European institutions as equal partners and will last two years.
During the talks, the COMECE and CEC delegation stressed that Churches, along with other stakeholders, can give a significant contribution to making European institutions more effective for the Common Good and to promoting dialogue and policies centred on people, families and communities, hence reducing the distance with EU citizens.
On his part, Ambassador Brito agreed that “Churches in Europe play an important role in reminding our societies that Europe is based on the centrality of human dignity and that we should not be afraid of our neighbours.”
The European Church leaders presented the Portuguese official with a joint contribution with reflections, proposals and policy recommendations, highlighting the need to promote European recovery by supporting a green and digital transition that is fair and inclusive and to strengthen Europe's strategic autonomy keeping it open to the world.
The delegation also urged the Portuguese Presidency to promote dialogue and unity in the EU so as to reinvigorate hope, trust and credibility.
“Our common European values – the respect of human dignity and rights, freedom, democracy, solidarity, equality and the rule of law – need to be continuously strengthened in order to reaffirm our commitment to the vision of the European Union as a true community of values that contributes to a shared and sustainable future of the world,” the Church leaders said.
COMECE and CEC welcomed the ambitious and value-oriented Programme of the Portuguese EU Presidency and its commitment to strengthen Europe’s resilience and people’s trust in the European social model by promoting solidarity and cohesion.
They said they especially appreciate “the coordinated approach towards climate change, digital transition and social welfare designed to promote a free, environmentally responsible, socially strong, sustainable and healthy way of life” in the context of the European recovery."
Meetings with rotating EU Council Presidencies are part of a long-standing tradition supported by Article 17 Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), which provides for an open, transparent and regular dialogue between the EU institutions and Churches and religious communities. The meeting was held on-line due to the Covid-19 pandemic.