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Dialogue Partner of EU Policy Advisor

At the conclusion of the meeting that took place between Dr Michael Weninger (Policy Advisor on Dialogue with Religions, Churches and Humanism in the EU) and the ENHCC (represented by Fr. Stavros Kofinas, Coordinator, and Chaplain Anne Vandenhoeck, Network Committee Member) the ENHCC was asked to become a "dialogue partner" of the Policy Advisor. Dr Weninger called a meeting of all his "partners" to inform then of the summit of EU leaders and the new developments within the EU, particularly after the issues raised in relation to the EU Constitution. Representing the ENHCC at this deliberation was Chaplain Anne Vandenhoeck.

Fr Stavros, Dr Weninger and Anne Vandenhoeck

Debriefing after the European Council in Brussels
(June 16-17, 2005)

at the invitation of Dr Michael Weninger, Policy Advisor to the President of the EU, The Honourable Jose Manuel Barroso, and Chairman of the EU Group Concerning Dialogue with Religion, Churches and Humanism.

Dr Weninger debriefed his dialogue partners on June 27th on what happened at the last European Council about the possible consequences for dialogue with religions, churches and humanism. Two major issues have been discussed at the highest level of the EU:

1. The constitution

Facts: Ten countries (49% of the European population) have already approved the constitution (Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary). Malta and Cyprus will approve. Because of the ‘No’ of France and the Netherlands most other countries (except Luxemburg) will take a pause before holding a referendum. It is believed that the crisis occurred because of the gap between the European institutions and the European citizens. Two more issues had an influence: the fast enlargement of the EU without the necessary internal changes and the question of the membership of Turkey.
Relation with religions, churches and humanism: Articles 47 (Principle of participatory democracy) and 52 (Status of churches and non-confessional organisations) of the Constitution are very important for religions, churches and faiths. The department of Dr Weninger is one of the few where dialogue takes place with representatives of large groups in the European population. After consulting sociologists of different European universities, Dr. Weniger said that 86% to 90% of the Europeans are believers.  (60% are traditional believers. They are more or less affiliated with traditional churches and religions. 30% are non traditional believers.) 10% to 14% are nihilists, people who don’t believe in anything.The department therefore represents a major part of the European population and also sees a task for religions, churches and faiths to overcome the gap between the institutions and the citizens. On July 12th Dr Weninger will hold a meeting with president Barroso and 12 representatives of religions and churches. Later this year a similar meeting will take place with representatives of non-confessional organisations.

2. Financial planning of the EU (2008-2013)

The United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands opposed the financial planning, in tension with France. The compromise proposed by Luxemburg was not accepted. The fundamental issue is the question about what kind of Europe do we want? There is a tension because of two very different views on Europe. There are the countries that want Europe to be a free trade association with a minimum of political power. In this minimalist approach each member keeps being as independent as possible. The opposite approach wants a united Europe with a centralized political system (one president, one parliament, one constitution). Dr Weninger also analysed British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech. Weninger sees the contemporary crisis as a chance to grow.

Dr Weninger informed us about organisational change in the group of policy advisors. (Bureau of European Policy Advisers) They are divided in three areas: society, economics and politics. It is a victory that his department is not brought under ‘society’ but under ‘politics’ and that 75% of the activities of the group are related in one way or another to his department. Dr Weninger stresses very much that there are voices and groups in the EU which find the dialogue with churches, religions and faiths unnecessary and will make moves to prevent it. They present two major reasons: the dialogue has no legal base and the separation between ‘Church and State’. Dr Weninger puts a lot of political and diplomatic efforts into safeguarding the space for dialogue with religions, churches and faiths. At the same time he would like to get extra staff to develop the dialogue more.

Anne Vandenhoeck