European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso convened an annual meeting of cross-denominational religious leaders in Brussels on Thursday to tackle the economic crisis in Europe by fostering “solidarity and responsibility among the young and the old”.
The meeting, which was held under the title of Intergenerational Solidarity: Setting the Parameters for Tomorrow’s Society in Europe was co-chaired by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Parliament Vice-President Laszlo Surjan. According to a statement by Barroso following the meeting, leaders “discussed intergenerational solidarity and other important demographic challenges for Europe...to show the specific contributions that churches and religious communities can make to explain the need for solidarity”.
The high-level talks brought together participants from Europe’s principle religions including His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, President of the Conference of European Churches, Mr Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith and His Excellency Chief Rabbi Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, Vice President of the Conference of European Rabbis.
President Barroso used his welcome speech to express how “churches and religious communities are well placed to build bridges in our societies”, adding that “together, we have to find ways how to move towards a more sustainable model of society, building on fundamental values like human dignity and social justice, and with sustainable and inclusive growth as its motor”.
Describing how “demographic developments, unacceptably high levels of unemployment, low labour market participation of women and people over 55...put high strains on the principle of solidarity”, the Commission president added that by continuing in this vein “we would not only put t risk our competitiveness and our economic and political weight in the world. There is also a wider risk for the basic principle of solidarity, for social peace and for the European model of society at large”.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy further expanded on the principles introduced by Barroso, adding that “transmitting skills and knowledge from one generation to another and caring for those at the edge of our societies are core competencies of religious communities”.
Discussing the potential for religious leaders to reach beyond their perceived influences, he said: “We all know that religion is not just about faith and meditation, even if it is essential. Religion is also about strengthening relationships between persons, about togetherness and increasing solidarity.”
Relating religions’ “essential values” to the founding principles of the European Union, Van Rompuy discussed the idea of traditional concepts of “family cohesion” as being the “support of social cohesion”, adding that “each group forms part of the solution for the other group. People of all ages give meaning to each other”, “we need collective infrastructure but we need also direct care of children vis-a-vis their parents”.
European Parliament Vice President Laszlo Surjan reflected on the title of the day’s meeting, stressing that “intergenerational solidarity is an obligation in the Judeo-Christian heritage and in other religions as well. Nowadays it is not only a question of religion but has strong financial implication too”.
Talking of the need for investment in the present, to secure a future for tomorrow, he added that “every investment in infrastructure or to the environmental protection is for the benefit of the next generations”. However, he warned “the crisis is challenging the very grounds of solidarity, which has characterised until now the ethic fabric of our societies in Europe”, concluding that “these difficult times require your full involvement in supporting your communities”.
The brainchild of former EU Commission President Jacques Delors, dialogue with religious authorities was established at the beginning of the 1990 to offer religious leaders “an opportunity to engage in the European integration process”. The subsequent Lisbon Treaty (which on entering into force in 2009 sought to tackle issues of globalisation and demographic changes) enshrined this practice into law “recognising their (religions) identity and their special contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations”.