Statement of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands
The signing of the Treaties of Rome on 25 March 1957 is considered the date of birth of the European Union (EU). At its core was the reconciliation between the arch-enemies France and Germany, but the six founding states also included Italy and the countries of the Benelux. Today, the EU has 27 member states. As a result of the enlargement of the EU with ten formerly communist countries, the EU has also become more ‘European’. The churches in Europe have been strong advocates of this enlargement since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
On 25 March 2007, the 50th anniversary of ‘Rome’ will be celebrated by the EU with the ‘Berlin Declaration’. Much emphasis will be on the EU as a community of values. The Council of Churches in the Netherlands supports what the European institutions of the churches in Europe have said in recent statements offered as contributions to this ‘Declaration’. (See www.comece.org and www.cec-kek.org ).
In these contributions the churches express their gratitude for what has been achieved. They also call for further developing the EU as a community of values. A central role must be given to the values of reconciliation, peace, solidarity, human dignity, religious freedom and human rights, and democracy. Based on these values, which have their origins in the Christian and humanistic heritage of Europe, the EU as a community of law must be reinforced. Moreover, the original task of the EU as a peace and reconciliation project is now also aimed at promoting stability and reform in the Western Balkans and Turkey, by offering the prospect of EU membership.
As a result of the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty in the referendum in 2005, the Netherlands – being a co-founder of the European unification process – is now subject of special attention. At the time, the Council of Churches, after careful consideration of all aspects, came to a positive conclusion about this Treaty. It is to be welcomed that now, after almost one and a half year of silence in Dutch politics, the new Dutch government intends to pay more attention to Europe again. The Council expresses the hope that the government will take initiatives of its own to make new steps forward in the EU possible. Of central importance will be: adjusting the structures of the EU to cope with its enlargement, bridging the gap between the EU and the citizens, a more resolute policy towards cross-border problems such as environmental issues and organized crime, a peaceful and just relationship with the world outside the EU, and strengthening the social dimension of the EU.
Many churches in Europe have committed themselves to the European cause in a Charter (Charta Oecumenica, 2001), that has also been signed by the member churches of the Council. For the churches, the 50th anniversary of ‘Rome’ is a further reason for reflection on their own role on our continent. In September of this year, the Third European Ecumenical Assembly will gather in Sibiu (Romania). Its theme is ‘The light of Christ shines upon all – Hope for renewal and unity in Europe’. The challenge is both to find new inspiration for the Christian faith, and to provide a constructive contribution to public life, as may be expected from the churches. In the dialogue with the European institutions the churches also want to express their criticism, for instance of the weak social rights. Moreover, the churches have a role of their own in the field of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. In all of this, the churches are aware of their fellowship with the churches in those countries of Europe which do not (yet) have a prospect of EU membership.
In their prayers, the Dutch churches have a long tradition of intercession for the national government and civil authorities. In the years behind us, many national competences have been transferred to Brussels, whereas at the same time our country has become co-responsible for the EU as a whole. Due to this combination of national and European governance, the EU is a fully new phenomenon in international politics. For this reason, the Council is asking its member churches on Sunday 25 March to include the European institutions in their prayers for the government and civil authorities. Commemorating 50 years of Treaties of Rome may be a suitable occasion for permanently including the European institutions in these prayers.
Amersfoort, The Netherlands, March 2007