The outgoing General Secretary of a key delegation of bishops to the European Union in Brussels has called on EU leaders to “rethink democratic processes” on the continent so as to overcome their problem of “legitimacy”.
Driving the news
The French Dominican Olivier Poquillon spoke to SIR on the occasion of the end of his three-year term as General Secretary of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union.
Poquillon said he was leaving Brussels to attend to the faithful – mostly poor and refugees – of the Latin-rite parish in Erbil, Iraq, and to help rebuild the Dominican convent in Mosul.
His successor as COMECE General Secretary is the Spanish priest Manuel Barrios.
The big picture
Describing his years in Brussels as “interesting and intense”, Poquillon first of all recalled COMECE’s mission.
That is, “to make a positive contribution to the European debate, closely following the institutional and legislative process, bringing the voice of the people, listening to the expectations of local communities, encouraging political reflection in view of decisions for the common good”.
“The human person – every man and every woman – should always be at the centre of political action”, the Dominican explained, adding that “the spiritual and cultural dimension of European identity must therefore be enhanced”.
In concrete terms, Poquillon pointed out two main challenges that the European Union faces today: “the relationship between institutions and citizens” and the “legitimacy” of the EU establishment.
“Given the rapid social changes we are experiencing, accelerated by the digital age, it is important to rethink democratic processes”, the Dominican explained.
“In other words, it is important for the institutions to decide not on behalf of the citizens, but with the citizens”, the French priest said, adding that “a response to populism can be built on these grounds”.
“The relations established between Europe and the local realities – municipalities, Regions, intermediate bodies, local territories and populations – are of the utmost importance”, Poquillon stressed.
Why it matters
Only when relations between institutions and citizens run smoothly will Europe be able to respond adequately to urgent challenges such as the care of the environment, the priest said.
But only when the crisis of the legitimacy of the European project is overcome, too, will society be able to fully appreciate the Church’s voice in political debates.
The dialogue between the Church and Brussels “is exposed to attacks by various lobbies and political currents on the right and left, which have not, however, grasped the constructive and proactive role that the Churches and religious communities can play within European society, especially in building solid social relations and giving a voice to those with no voice”, Poquillon lamented.
“The Churches and religious communities have no intention of interfering in the political arena, let alone replacing political decision-makers”, he continued.
He added that these Catholic bodies only seek to “enrich the public debate, stimulating reflections inspired by their concrete commitment in support of families, young people, the most vulnerable…”.
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Even though European Christian communities “are not cenacles of the immaculate but gatherings of sinners on a journey”, they still have at heart “the construction of the common good on the basis of universal values: peace, mutual respect, self-giving to others, openness to the world”, Poquillon affirmed.
Europe is in need of Christians “who are properly formed, competent and engaged in society, in the economy, in politics”, the priest concluded.