The upcoming European elections will be selecting MEP’s who will enjoy a five-year mandate. In our fast-changing times, a lot can happen in five years. The voter has a right to expect that a lot can be achieved too. Yet the pace of events in Ukraine is but one reminder of how quickly political landscapes and the perception of political priorities can be altered, sometimes quite by surprise. When it comes to priorities, it is important to recognise that these up-coming elections have quite a different significance, depending on where in Europe one finds oneself. In Belgium, where voting is compulsory and failing to vote is punishable by law, Flemings and Walloons will be voting in regional, national and EU elections, and one can legitimately wonder what will be the issues which decide the Belgian citizen’s choice at every level. Will it be the foreign policy of the EEAS or access to schools and medical services in the bi-lingual “facility” communes of Brussels? In the UK, if opinion polls and the screaming, tabloid headlines are reliable indicators, 22 May will see a dry run of the 2015 general election, the Euro-sceptic party UKIP set to erode the vote of the governing party. It is not at all clear in how many of the 28 EU member states issues of Europe will shape the voters’ choice. Nor can it be taken for granted that the citizens even appreciate what precisely the powers vested in the European Parliament are nor what policy areas fall within EU competence. The declaration made by the COMECE bishops, issued on 20 March and still enjoying a remarkable level of warm support, even beyond the columns of the usual suspects, focuses very clearly on issues that deserve to matter across the continent. Drawing on wide and sustained pastoral experience, smelling of the sheep confided to their care (to borrow the expression Pope Francis uses in his advice to bishops), the COMECE bishops demonstrated how clearly they understand the issues that concern people and affect their lives, wherever in the EU they live. There is no denial of the degree to which the 2007/08 banking crisis blew the EU ship off course. Europe’s greatest problem continues to be the social fall-out of the crisis: increasing numbers of people caught in poverty, the new poor, the young unemployed, to whose plight COMECE and, just recently, CEC have devoted conferences. Other issues which feature in the bishops’ Statement are migration, the common weekly day of rest (Sunday), freedom of religion, questions that affect the wellbeing of all. What is vital on 22 – 25 May is that our citizens cast their vote believing in the future of the European process and keen to contribute to its success.
The consultation of May 22-25 and the role of the Catholic faithful