Share article:
Share article:

EU in dialogue with religious communities on common values

Panel debate on The Power of Belief, Athens Democracy Forum, 2020

The Athens Democracy Forum last week was themed “The New Abnormal: Reimagining Democracy.” The forum convenes in Athens to debate solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

One of the panel discussions was labelled “The power of Belief”. Are religion and ideology obstacles or guiding lights in a democracy? Three panellists participated in the discussion: Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission for Promoting our European Way of Life, Archbishop Nikitas, Greek Orthodox Archbishop, and Fatima Zaman, an advocate from the Kofi Annan Foundation.

On the one hand, religions can be powerful forces for good in the pursuit of higher morals, in the care for the poor, in the promotion of civil society. The moral and ethical principles of liberal democracy derive from religion, and shared identities can give people a sense of community and purpose.

On the other hand, religion and, more recently, identity politics can also be forces for coercion, abuse of the weak, terror, intolerance and war. Where is the balance in the modern world?

Asked about his message to the listeners, the Archbishop replied that “we have to listen carefully to what God says”. That can be difficult and believers through history have often confused his voice with their own inner voices. In practice, Archbishop Nikitas asks himself how Jesus would have acted in his position. The point is to live according to the same core value system as Jesus embraced according to the Bible.

Fatima Zaman described herself as modern Muslim woman. “Religion is a force of good but it can also be politicized and misused to justify violence.” She acknowledged both sides of religion and advocates inter-faith dialogue to promote mutual understanding and tolerance.

The EU does not want to be looked upon as a “Christian club”. For Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, the starting point is the EU treaty which includes an article (17) on the dialogue between the European institutions and religious associations or communities as well as philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

In the past, Europe suffered of divisions and wars, often fueled by religion. He described the EU as an epicentre of peaceful existence with a mix of identities and common values. “It’s not us against them any longer. Europe is a mirror of different religions and cultures.”

But what about the dark spots in the mirror, the Holocaust in WWII, and antisemitism, islamophobia, racism and xenophobia today? Schinas recognized the rising trend of racism in the EU. “We don’t tolerate it and are fighting it in different ways. The best antidote against the voices of racism is good policies.” Last month, the European Commission presented an action plan against racism.

Archbishop Nikitas was worried about the violence religious communities are facing in Europe. “We fear other communities because of lack of understanding of them. Bricks can be used to build either walls or bridges between us.”

“Where in the world do you feel more protected than in the EU?” Schinas asked. The other two panelists were less convinced that the EU is a world champion of human rights. There is intolerance everywhere in the world, including the EU. “Religious leaders must take the lead to improve the world,” the Archbishop concluded. “It all comes down to truth and love.”

Since 2009, the dialogue with religions, philosophical and non-confessional organisations is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty. A source in the European Commission describes the dialogue as a structured dialogue aiming at giving religious communities the possibility to express their opinion on EU policies and influence the Union. For that end high-level meetings are organised on all possible topics.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times


Latest news

Limiting private contacts ‘needed to fight autumn wave’, expert warns
The Consultative Committee announced it is introducing a handful of measures in public spaces to control the quickening spread of the coronavirus, ...
Belgian wind farm closed down to save migrants floating in sea
A wind farm near Zeebrugge had to be shut down on Wednesday morning as more than 25 migrants had been adrift in its vicinity off the Belgian coast ...
Cinemas will require Covid Safe Ticket from Friday
The Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will be required to attend cinemas across Belgium from Friday, which marks the start of the autumn holidays, the ...
UN issues strong warning ahead of climate change summit in Glasgow
New and updated climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, leaving the world on track for a ...
Disastrous year for Belgian beekeepers
Belgian beekeepers have experienced a disastrous year, with honey production 50 to 60 percent lower than last year due to heavy rainfall during ...
New measures for schools considered as situation becomes ‘untenable’
Belgium's various education partners met on Wednesday to discuss additional measures to implement in schools as the coronavirus situation worsens in ...
Belgium in Brief: Back To Masks
I really hope you didn't throw out all your masks. You'll be needing them again. Now I do appreciate that this isn't a huge change for ...
Belgium a climate slowcoach as EU reveals emissions progress
The European Union is on track to pass its first big climate test, according to new figures published this week. But Belgium has been singled out for ...
Belgium’s decision on possible third shot postponed until Saturday
The decision on how Belgium will proceed with the roll-out of third shots of the coronavirus vaccine has been postponed until Saturday.  The news ...
Experts and politicians respond to new coronavirus measures
The handful of measures (re-)introduced by Belgium's Consultative Committee on Tuesday in response to the worsening coronavirus situation have had a ...
New fraudulent e-mails circulating in Belgium
A warning has been put out about new phishing e-mails that have been circulating since last Saturday and are sent from what could appear to be an ...
Belgian ‘Space Bakery’ project highlighted at World Expo in Dubai
The Puratos Space Bakery project is taking centre stage at the Belgian pavilion in Dubai, where the World Expo is taking place. This week is ...