Daily events in the world and in Europe continuously highlight the fundamental importance of churches and religious communities in resolving conflict and social peace both on a regional and on a local level. Religious institutions in many ways help create, communicate and protect societal values. By doing so, they exert a significant amount of direct and indirect influence on society. Churches do not operate by themselves but through the people who belong to them. So when we speak about churches, we are not speaking only about institutions, but also about hundreds of millions of people around the world who are believers.
It is important for the EPP Group (Christian-Democrats) to keep contact with the representatives of various religious groups while mutually acknowledging each others’ independence. The EPP Group is the only Group in the European Parliament which has a long-standing dialogue with monotheistic religions such as Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Islam and the Jewish faiths.
In contemporary European and global politics, there are numerous problems that can only be solved by broad social cooperation. The financial crisis, the ever-increasing social tensions and issues related to migration are all global challenges that we are faced with today. It is important for the EPP Group to have knowledge about the thoughts and activities of various religious organisations relating to these issues.Freedom of religion is a basic right. Whether it is speaking against mass persecution of Christians in countries of the Arab Spring, or about helping the increasing numbers of Islamic communities relocating to Europe find their place in the scheme of European principles and values, the EPP Group believes that it is its duty to defend the right to freedom of religion, to openly discuss these issues, bring them closer to the public eye and into the mainstream of European debates. We can only live up to this enormous challenge if we seek opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with the religious communities involved.
The tradition of dialogues started in April 1996 in Constantinople (Istanbul) with HH the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. The fundamental aim of this dialogue, which is to date also enshrined as a legal basis of Article17 of the Lisbon Treaty, is a common responsibility for Europe. Clause 3 of this Article reads:
"3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations."
Consequently, both politics and churches need to continuously adapt and refine their actions in order to respond to new challenges.
Through our activities, we build upon a long tradition and commitment to dialogue with churches and religious organisations. Several hundred people, including Members of the European Parliament, religious leaders, government representatives, invited guests and the interested public participate every year at our conferences on religious dialogue. These annual conferences are high-level two-day events that take place once a year outside Brussels and discuss current issues pertinent to intercultural dialogue and the dialogue between religion and politics.
Contacts with highly-respected experts from churches are continuously widened through other public and internal meetings. We organise public hearings on current affairs that fall within the scope of religious dialogue. We also hold internal meetings of the EPP Group Working Group on Intercultural Dialogue where we discuss issues with ecclesiastical leaders and religious experts from around Europe and beyond.