“Bringing Europe Closer to its People”

Churches Meet with the Hungarian EU Presidency

As part of the series of regular encounters between churches and the incoming EU Presidencies, a delegation of Hungarian and European church representatives was received by the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán on Monday, 17 January 2011 in Budapest. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and the Secretaries of State Mihály Varga, Peter Szíjjárto, Zoltán Balog and László Szászfalvi as well as by several advisers.

Among the specific topics which the delegation of church representatives raised were questions with regard to family policies, the situation of the Roma communities in Europe, the implementation of religious freedom and the EU Danube Strategy. Topics also included the social dimension in European policies and, in particular, in relation to the implementation of the EU 2020 Strategy.

Prime Minister Orbán responded to the churches´ concerns and welcomed their active engagement with the Hungarian government during the forthcoming 6 months and beyond. He asked the churches for their support in bringing all European governments and societies to recognise that the integration of Roma communities should be a European, and not just a national commitment of some European governments. It will only be possible to improve the living conditions of Roma throughout Europe, if all European governments cooperate. Identification of best practices is a priority for the Hungarian EU Presidency, to which the churches with their experience and well- established relationships with Roma communities have much to contribute.

In view of the forthcoming debates in the European Parliament and the EU´s Foreign Relations Council, the Prime Minister expressed his support for an effective response by the European Union to the persecution of Christians and the increasing attacks on Christian communities throughout the world. Such a response could be envisaged either by the Presidency itself or through the newly- established External Action Service of the European Union.

Regarding the first implementation phase of the EU Danube Strategy, the Prime Minister and the church representatives agreed on the need for strengthening reconciliation and inter-cultural dialogue as two important elements of cooperation between governments and civil society in the Danube region.

As one of the priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency is to bring Europe closer to its citizens, the church representatives emphasised the involvement of civil society at large, as well as of religious communities in particular in the decision-making process on the European level. Prime Minister Orbán in his response acknowledged the difficulties of the European Institutions to get closer to the citizens. He encouraged the churches to maintain their important role as bridge builders, as churches are organised on the local, national and regional level and could, therefore, bring the “voice of the people” to the Institutions.

The meeting on 17 December is, therefore, to be seen as the starting point for an ongoing dialogue between the churches and the Hungarian EU Presidency. The churches used the occasion to present their programme, which will accompany the Presidency in the first half of 2011.

The churches´ delegation for the meeting with the Prime Minister reflected the plurality of churches in the Hungarian context. Under the leadership of Péter Cardinal Erdö (Roman Catholic), Bishop Dr Gusztáv Bölcskei (Reformed) and the Ecumenical Council in Hungary, the delegation included representatives from the Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Orthodox Churches in Hungary. Due to the specific tradition in Hungary, the delegation also included representatives from the Jewish community. The European church bodies were represented by Director Rev Rüdiger Noll of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the General Secretary of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences in the European Community (COMECE), Fr Dr Piotr Mazurkiewicz.

Joint statement of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE).

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) is a fellowship of some 120 Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant, and Old Catholic Churches from all countries of Europe, and of 40 associated organisations. CEC was founded in 1959. It has offices in Geneva, Brussels and Strasbourg.

The Church and Society Commission of CEC provides a platform for the CEC membership to reflect on socio-ethical issues ecumenically and to involve them in common action and advocacy in relation to the European Union, the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations (in European matters). CSC operates as a forum for action, dialogue and ecumenical training in European affairs. www.ceceurope.org