Brussels turns to gods for help with climate change
Brussels officials have turned to religious VIPs to help spread the gospel of an environmentally friendly society and increase awareness of climate change in their parishes, as well as promoting tolerance between different confessions in Europe.
Twenty high-level representatives – 19 men and one woman - from European Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations met in Brussels on Monday (5 may) to discuss the sensitive issues of climate change and reconciliation between peoples.
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The meeting was co-chaired by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Slovenian Prime Minister and current president of the European Council, Janez Jansa, and the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering.
Mr Barroso told a press conference that churches, mosques and temples could all play an important role in identifying and implementing solutions to the challenge of climate change.
"Thanks to their moral authority, their outreach and their structure, they are well placed to make a valuable contribution, mobilising our societies for a sustainable future," the president said.
Prime Minister Jansa, referring to both the Bible and the Koran, said: "Earth was created and given to man, and man has to be respectful of what he has been given," and called for what the late Pope John Paul II described as an "ecological conversion".
"The success in the fights against climate change relies to a great extent on changes in our habits, in our philosophies in our world outlook and the consumer society that has created superficial needs - needs that justify consumption."
Mr Jansa also announced that Slovenia plans to set up a Euro-Mediterranean university that will be a meeting place for students from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish world. The school's charter is to be signed in Ljubljana in June.
Bishop Adrianus Van Luyn, the president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (COMECE), suggested that the EU appoint a "High Representative for Future Generations".
Who was not invited?
On the second topic of the meeting, "Reconciliation through Intercultural Dialogue", President Barroso underlined the importance of combining freedom of expression and respect for other faiths, in an attempt to sooth both Islamic outrage in recent years and others' fear of Islam.
"Islam today is part of Europe. One should not see Islam as outside Europe. We already have an important presence of Islam and Muslims among our citizens," Mr Barroso said, adding that the inter-faith dialogue proved that the "preachers of a clash of civilisations are wrong."
The grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dr Mustafa Ceric pointed to the EU's policy on Turkey.
"Following this logic, Europe has to prove that Islam is part of Europe by not delaying the acceptance of Turkey to the EU," the cleric said.
Others criticised the invitation list for Monday's inter-faith meeting.
Flanked by a female priest colleague, Swedish archbishop Anders Weyrud [Lutheran] told EUobserver he was disappointed there was only one woman among the religious dignitaries, pastor Letizia Tomassone, the vice-president of the federation of evangelical churches of Italy, who had also raised the point during the inter-religious meeting.
"We have neglected both nature and women, that was one of the messages we tried to get across at this meeting," the archbishop said.
From its headquarters just across the street from the inter-religious meeting, a spokesperson from the church of scientology, a faith that is growing rapidly in Europe, told EUobserver that Brussels should also look at minority religions in Europe when deciding who to put on the invitation list for upcoming meetings.
"We want to have an open and transparent dialogue with the institutions, just as with the leaders who were invited to the [European] commission today. It has to be a full dialogue, with minority religions also represented, and not a selective dialogue," Mr Fabio Amicarelli said.
Meanwhile some MEPs have in the past questioned the presence of religious figures in strictly political fora in Brussels.
The parliament's Party Working Group on the Separation of Religion and Politics in a letter to Hans-Gert Poettering last year wrote: "It is unbecoming for any of the EU institutions to provide an exclusive platform to any particular grouping, including religions, in particular as the majority of European citizens are not religious or no longer practice their religion."
"Thus millions of individual citizens do not have a voice in the dialogue," the letter concluded.
According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, some 48 percent of European citizens claim to be non-confessional.