COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, is “annoyed” not to have been included in the new Brussels Conference on the Future of Europe, according to sources.

Driving the news

COMECE sources quoted by SIR January 23 said the Bishops’ Commission “widely appreciates the process started by the EU institutions for a Conference on the future of Europe. It is an important initiative, taken at the right time”.

But those same episcopal insiders said “it is disappointing that the EU Parliament and the EU Commission do not expressly mention the Churches as players to be involved in the Conference, while lay organisations and trade unions are mentioned, instead”.

“The specific contribution made by the Churches and by religious associations or communities, in pursuit of the common good, would add quite substantial elements to the discussions” announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and which have as their goal the renovation and rejuvenation of the EU common project starting from the contributions of citizens and civil society groups.

That disappointment aside, the COMECE sources promised to “keep working in a dialogue with the institutions, so that the Churches may be involved in the Conference on the future of Europe”.

Go deeper

Also this week, an ecumenical delegation composed of representatives from COMECE and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) met in Zagreb on Monday, 20 January 2020 with Mr. Andrej Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia, to exchange on the priorities of the Croatian Presidency of the EU Council, which started on 1 January 2020.

The delegation led by H. Em. Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, President of COMECE, and Rev. Christian Krieger, President of CEC, shared a contribution of Churches in Europe on key issues that the Croatian Presidency will address in the following six months.

The meeting included the participation of representatives of the Croatian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and CEC Member Churches from Croatia.

An open and constructive discussion focused, particularly, on the Future of Europe, and the upcoming related conference initiated by the EU.

Churches underlined the importance of the inclusiveness of this process, and expressed their willingness to actively contribute to its success for the benefit of European citizens.

Churches also articulated their support for Croatian Presidency’s efforts towards fostering the integration of countries of South-East Europe into the European Union.

Moreover, the delegation exchanged views with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković –  accompanied by the President of the Croatian Parliament and several members of his Government, including the Minister of Interior, Minister of Culture, and the State Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs – on Churches’ engagement in a number of areas related to the priorities of the Croatian Presidency, including migration and refugee policies.

The President of COMECE referred to Churches’ concerns on existing divisions in Europe. He underlined the important mediating role of Croatia, stating that “dialogue and mutual respect are crucial values that need to be upheld in order to overcome divisions”.

Why it matters

COMECE and CEC welcomed the commitment of the Croatian Presidency of the EU Council to foster community-building through sport, culture and education.

In this regard, the President of CEC also pointed out that “inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue have  important role in promoting social harmony and a spirit of encounter in Europe and beyond”.

The participants of the meeting stressed that supporting persons, families and communities in facing digitalisation and demographic challenges in Europe is key to reinvigorate citizens’ trust in the EU.

Churches also encouraged the Croatian EU Presidency to work towards a just transition on the basis of the recently proposed European Green Deal, as well as to promote the fundamental right to religious freedom in Europe and worldwide.

Meetings with respective EU Council Presidencies are part of a long-standing tradition supported by Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), which foresees an open, transparent and regular dialogue between the EU institutions and Churches.

In the context of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the COMECE-CEC delegation, together with local Christian communities, participated in an ecumenical celebration led by H. Em. Card. Josip Bozanić at the Cathedral of Zagreb.

For the record

Meanwhile, on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, COMECE, together with CEC, celebrated an ecumenical prayer at the European Parliament on Wednesday, 22 January 2020.

Hosted by MEP Peter van Dalen, the Ecumenical Prayer focused on the theme “They showed us unusual kindness”. It was led by Br. Alois, Prior of the Taizé community, with contributions from COMECE President, H. Em. Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, and CEC President Rev. Christian Krieger.

Addressing political and Churches representatives, the Presidents of COMECE and CEC highlighted the importance of unity in challenging times. They prayed together to overcome divisions and foster reconciliation across Europe.

Mairead McGuinness, First Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for the implementation of Article 17 TFEU, stressed the important role Churches play in European societies and their contribution in nurturing hope.

(With information from COMECE)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.