The annual high-level EU meeting with religious leaders took place on Friday and focused on the response to the coronavirus crisis and EU’s migration policy.
A dialoguewith religions and philosophical and non-confessional organisations is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty and aims at giving religious communities the possibility to express their opinion on EU policies and to influence the Union. The meeting today gathered representatives of the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
“We agreed that solidarity shouldn’t be limited to crisis times but become an active part of our future,” said Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European way of life, at the press conference following the meeting (27 November). This was also the theme of the meeting. He quoted one of the religious leaders: “We stand for faith, love and hope.”
In short interventions during the press conference, the religious leaders stressed that religions play an important role in the EU and called for more cooperation and unity. They also accepted the COVID-19 measures as very much needed for the safety of all citizens even if they meant restrictions in religious services and the celebration of religious holidays.
There is mounting pressurein some EU member states to relax the measures during the forthcoming holiday period to allow families to celebrate a traditional Christmas. Is it worthwhile to sacrifice a month of lockdown restrictions – which have resulted in a reduction in infections – for a few days of celebrations?
Replying to the question, Vice-President Schinas referred to a previous press conference this week with Health Commissioner Kyriakides. “We are both very clear that we under no circumstances should jeopardize in the weeks to come the very important progress that has been made during the second wave of the virus.”
“This is of course in the hands of the member states,” he added, “but there is also a European dimension to it. We have a collective duty to make sure that we now, at the end of the second wave, won’t make any mistakes.” He quoted the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, who has stated that he does not want to ruin “four weeks of progress in four days”.
From a religious point of view, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm underlined that the church is absolutely cooperating with the public health effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. “To do otherwise would counter our own message. Love of God and love of our neighbour cannot be separated. We must celebrate the Christmas message in a way that doesn’t endanger people.”
The European Commission plans to issue guidance next week to the member states to allow for a common understanding and coordinated approach during the holiday season.