European institutions "more open than ever" to church co-operation

May 31, 2011

Warsaw, Poland (ENInews)--A senior ecumenist has welcomed growing
co-operation between leaders of European institutions and churches, and predicted a
growing advisory role for religious communities. 

"I think we're seeing a greater openness today than ever before," said
Rudiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference
of European Churches (CEC). "Our latest meeting was triggered by the Arab
uprisings and European response, and by Europe's financial and economic
crisis, and in both areas the institution presidents were very clear. What's
needed is a new value-based, community approach in Europe, rather than just
an economic system. They're turning to the churches for this."

The United Church of Westphalia pastor was speaking after a Brussels
meeting on 30 May between 20 religious leaders and the Portuguese president of
the European Union's governing commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as
the European Council's Belgian president, Herman van Rompuy, and the Polish
president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek. 

In an ENInews interview on 30 May, he said religious leaders now had
regular "institutionalized meetings" with senior European officials, including
the EU's rotating presidency, and "dialogue seminars" on issues of common
concern, in line with Article 17 of the EU's 2008 Lisbon Treaty, which
guarantees churches an "open, transparent and regular dialogue" with EU
institutions. However, he added that church leaders also hoped to strengthen the
structural contacts with a "deeper culture of dialogue." 

"EU leaders have said they didn't need the Lisbon Treaty to have a
relationship with us," said Noll, whose organization, founded in 1959, groups 125
Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic churches, and 40 associated
organizations. 

"Although it would be naive to believe all our member-churches speak the
same language, we should at least singing, at the end of the day, from the
same hymn sheet - playing different instruments, but making up a single
orchestra."

In his address to the annual meeting, the religious leaders' seventh with
European institution presidents, CEC's Orthodox president, Metropolitan
Emmanuel of France, said the world of faith could "prove a powerful ally in
efforts to address issues of democratic rights and liberties."

A 30 May CEC press release said the mostly Orthodox and Protestant
representatives had reiterated their commitment to promote "the rights of
minorities and migrants, economic justice, participation, solidarity, freedom of
speech and expression as well as religious freedom."

The meeting followed a 25-28 May annual plenary of CEC's Church and
Society Commission in Brussels, which was attended by religious affairs
specialists from the EU's European External Action Service, Bureau of European
Policy Advisors and European Parliament presidency.

A 27 May CEC statement said the commission had agreed to finalize a human
rights training manual for European churches and join the Sunday Alliance
network, adding that member-churches were committed to operating as
"responsible and competent partners for the European institutions," while seeking
to "speak with a common voice and make sure this voice is heard."

The inclusion of the Church and Society Commission on a new EU
Transparency Register, requiring companies and organizations lobbying the EU to have
their activities publicly recorded, would "allow for regular and
non-bureaucratic exchanges to complement the formal dialogue process," the statement
said. 

In his ENI interview, Rudiger Noll said the current openness to churches
and faiths was a "common sentiment among EU officials," but added that CEC
also counted on the appointment of a "permanent facilitator" in the 736-seat
European Parliament, to ensure dialogue was maintained during an upcoming
change of leadership from the center-right European People's Party to the
Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

"When it comes to relations with the institutions, the churches are always
surprised to see how much they have in common--the context in which we
live is much more important than any theological or confessional divergences,"
the CEC Commission director told ENInews.