A delegation of Austrian and European church representatives met in Vienna on 23rd July with Karoline Edtstadler, Secretary of State for Home Affairs of the Austrian government, to exchange views on the priorities of the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council.
Regular meetings of churches with the rotating EU Presidency have been taking place for more than 20 years. They are an expression of the regular dialogue between the EU and churches, religious, philosophical, and non-confessional organisations as established in Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The starting point for this discussion was a working document entitled 'Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU - Reflections and Recommendations of the Christian Churches in Europe'.
On the subject of Brexit, the church representatives emphasized the need for efforts to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Church representatives said that “a visible frontier that jeopardises the common achievement of reconciliation and peace, and divides citizens on both sides must be avoided.”
In the field of migration and asylum policy, the delegation invited EU leaders to work for a Common European Asylum System, and to make it an appropriate tool to manage migration. All participants agreed that Europe is in need of migrants for obvious reasons.
In this area, the church delegation presented to Secretary of State Edtstadler interesting proposals, such as “circular migration,” which should open up legal channels for low-skilled workers who meet the needs of receiving countries. They criticised the criminalisation of migrants and the poor respect for their fundamental rights, and called for their humane treatment in every phase of their journey, including when returning to the country of origin.
A final topic addressed during the meeting was climate change and the upcoming COP 24 meeting in Katowice in December. Churches and church relief agencies are profoundly involved in this upcoming United Nations climate summit. The churches hope for a further strengthening of EU leadership in the UN climate negotiations and a leading role of the Presidency in preparing an EU contribution to the climate summit COP 24 in December in Katovice.
The delegation was composed of:
DDr Peter Schipka, Secretary General of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference;
Bishop Dr Michael Bünker, Bishop of the Protestant Church A.B. (Lutheran) in Austria;
Fr. Athanasius Buk, priest of the Greek-Oriental Metropolis of Austria;
Bishop Andrej Cilerdzic, Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Austria, Vice-President of the Austrian Council of Churches;
Dr Michael Kuhn, Deputy Secretary General of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE);
Rev. Sören Lenz, Executive Secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
[Conference of European Churhces News, abbreviated]