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(Re)thinking Europe. Father Heikki Huttunen (CEC): “It’s time of social equity for Europe”

"The European Union has become a victim of its own success. While it successfully achieved a number of goals it lost the very meaning of its process. How the confidence of European citizens be recovered? We must restart to speak of the real situations of today and ensure that citizenry gives value to the European project." Interview with Father Heikki Huttunen, CEC Secretary General, ahead of the “international dialogue forum” on "(Re)thinking Europe" (Vatican, October 27-29)

Is Europe in crisis? It would be more appropriate to describe it as an ever-evolving project, whose resumption depends on the ability to listen to people’s needs. Unemployment, pockets of deprivation and social exclusion, lack of future prospects. Conceived as a peace and reconciliation project, Europe’s major challenge today is to ensure “social equity” everywhere and to everyone. It is the only way to enable the European Union to continue being the beating heart of its populations, and it’s the only “recipe” to reactivate the European project since its establishment with the signature on the Treaties of Rome. The path was indicated by Father Heikki Huttunen, from the Finnish Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Secretary General of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), an ecumenical body that brings together the Christian Churches in Europe from the Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican traditions. Fr. Huttunen will participate as fraternal delegate to the international dialogue forum “(Re)thinking Europe – A Christian contribution to the future of the European project”, due to be held in the Vatican October 27-29, attended by bishops, political leaders and representatives of civil society in Europe.

Father Huttunen what is the situation of today’s Europe? 
Today Europe is confronted with important questions. These are hard times, but I would rather describe it as the result of a loss in vision. Until a few years ago, Countries who had not yet joined the EU had filed adhesion requests, while today, Grexit and Brexit are discussed inside the European Union. Europe has lost focus, and it must be recovered, whether it consists in the recovery of values, objectives, principles, of the peace and democracy project, or as an area of transparency and rights, a place of social equity. Over the past years the European Union was successful as a peace project, but we are facing situations that instead of improving have grown weaker. I am thinking of social equity.

Could you be more specific? In other words, the passion for Europe is linked to everyday life. We are talking of the political realm and the political realm must, to a certain extent, meet people’s needs and address their problems.

The European Union has become a victim of its own success. It was successful in the achievement of a large set of goals but it lost the very purport of its process. How can people’s confidence be recovered? We ought to restart addressing today’s concrete situations and ensure that citizenry gives value to the European project.

Is this lack of direct communication with people, coupled by the inability to listen to their needs, the underlying cause of the success of far-right political movements in Europe today? 
I would rather speak of different trends. Indeed, we are facing the rise of the far right, but ultimately, electoral competitions were won by Macron in France and by Mrs. Merkel in Germany, although the latter didn’t perform brilliantly. The Green party in Holland is growing. So if we look at Europe we will see different trends. It’s also true that today the far right has unexpectedly returned to be a protagonist of Europe’s political domain. In my opinion its success is the result of widespread discontent and frustration in European countries. Some people feel excluded by the societies they live in. An interesting essay by a Finnish scholar claims that populism is not attacking social elites, such as the great economic powers or capitals: in fact it’s an attack on appearance.

The battles conducted by populist movements are very superficial ones: they offer easy solutions to unhappy people.

What lies beneath this superficiality? We are faced with a question, namely, we should ask ourselves whether we have done enough and what still needs to be done to guarantee improved social equity in Europe,

It is the necessary condition to ensure that people stop feeling excluded and see the future with hope.

Let us take Greece’s unemployment rates, that range from 50 to 60%, or the Roma population who are not registered and thus, in paper, don’t exist: in Europe there are people with no future prospect, they are European but they are cut out from our societies, they work but they have no prospects of growth. These are the reasons for the growing success of far right movements.

Do you mean to say that in order to recover a place in people’s hearts Europe must start anew from the poor, from the excluded? 
Yes. We need to rediscover the original ideas that initiated the European project and listen to the people. In this respect, I want to point out that to date Western Europe has prevailed on the European scene. We are not fully informed about the life and the aspirations of East European populations. Europe needs to understand its role in the world, with the hope that it may be a more active one. We said that the European project was a project of peace, but it was understood only for itself.

Ukraine is a geographical part of Europe, and a war is being waged in Ukraine.

The war in Africa is ongoing, Libya is in chaos. In all of these situations Europe’s influence to date has amounted to almost zero. And finally, the question of immigration: there are people who want to come to Europe. How can we receive them, welcome them in the fairest manner?

What do you think of this dialogue, encounter and discussion forum on Europe, strongly desired by Pope Francis and the COMECE bishops? First of all, I want to say that it’s the best way to celebrate the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. I was favourably impressed by the shape that the meeting has given to dialogue, since it corresponds to what we truly need. We need to listen to one another, to talk..

This is the path we must follow, the only possible way to find new solutions.

I also want to congratulate myself with COMECE for the ecumenical trait they have given to the meeting by involving delegates from different Churches and Countries. In my opinion it is a positive message.

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