A possible agreement

The institutions tasked with combating poverty

An area of debate and a common language: a shared concern. The annual meeting between EU institutions (Parliament, Council, Commission) and the coordinators of the major Churches and religious communities in Europe was held July 19 in a peaceful atmosphere marked by mutual cooperation. Debates focused on the possible measures for combating poverty and social exclusion; also in view of the fact that the EU devoted all of 2010 to this theme and that it recently adopted a strategy (Europe 2020) for economic growth, employment and to counter indigence. Charitable experience. “Churches and religious communities are important providers of social services in EU member states”. José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission (which hosted the meeting), welcomed the encounter of community institutions with some twenty Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh leaders from 14 countries. Indigence and marginalization are “no longer tolerable in contemporary Europe”, Barroso explained, underlining “the long standing and wide ranging experience” of religious communities in providing support to weak social brackets. “84 million Europeans live at risk of poverty – many of them are children and old people”, added the Portuguese politician. For this reason, we must “step up our action to alleviate poverty and wider human misery”, as provided for in the “Europe 2020 strategy for growth and employment”. Barroso pointed out: “EU funding to religious communities and to their organizations committed in combating poverty is not yet envisaged”, but “we’ve started a discussion on practical ways for Churches’ contribution in an atmosphere of close cooperation”.EU values to address the crisis. “The promise of a better life for all without exceptions must always be at the heart of the European project”. In his welcoming address to bishops, rabbis, Islamic and Hindu leaders EP Parliament president Jerzy Buzek said, “Combating poverty and social exclusion is a task for the partnership of all; local, national and European levels as well as laymen and churches”. He added: “Our first and foremost priority is to restore social and economic security. Churches have a crucial role to play in this regard. They contribute with a long-standing experience in social work with individuals and communities. This experience has never been as valuable as it is today in a time of crisis”. The Polish representative pointed out: “We must show solidarity and we also need a Europe of values to address the crisis that is first and foremost human and moral”. Ensuring housing, employment and health. Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council said: “The EU must develop as a Union of values. This is the soft power we have to offer to Europe and to the world as a whole. Indeed, he added, “We all know that this issue is mainly linked with homelessness, with a better access to the labour market, with the possibility to apply for health services, with, indeed, what can be called “the material conditions of life”. However, “it also represents the will to restore human dignity, the dignity of both men and women” in difficulty. And that is why “societal, cultural and ethical questions should also be taken into account”. The “stable” EU president pointed out that “on October 15 there will be a meeting with non-confessional organizations” in EU-27, whose claims “we will listen to with utmost attention”.Solidarity and civic commitment. In the final statement the EU Commission underlined that the debate was held “with frank and open spirit” in the framework of article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, which provides for structured dialogue between the European Union and the religious communities. Orthodox, Reform, Catholic leaders and other religious representatives according to the Commission, “expressed their support for the Europe2020 strategy and its social and education targets”. They “encouraged the European institutions to further increase the momentum, especially with a view to improving access to the labour market, better targeting of social services in member states and ensuring equal opportunities with view to access to education and training”. Spiritual leaders “underlined their continued commitment to foster social cohesion and increase a sense of solidarity and civic engagement among Europeans”.

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