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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement by President Barroso following the meeting with European faith leaders

Joint press conference with European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, European Parliament President, Jerzy Buzek and religious leaders

Brussels, 30 May 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It was a pleasure and an honour to receive today, together with President Buzek and President Van Rompuy, eminent representatives from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions as well as from the Buddhist communities.

As you know, we have been meeting annually since 2005. And today we meet for the second time under the Lisbon Treaty, which formalised this open and regular dialogue between the EU and religions, as well as communities of conviction.

We have had a very fruitful, constructive and open discussion about the values of democracy and freedom that are a central concept in Europe. We also discussed our shared ambitions to promote these values in Europe's closest neighbourhood.

We met to debate on our commitment to democratic rights and liberties. It is indeed worth recalling that the European Union is a laboratory for the setting of transnational rules and standards with an experience of 50-years of promoting peace and democracy, freedom and solidarity across a whole continent.

Our successful enlargement policy reinforces and enriches our experience of cross-border integration and cooperation within a Europe which should be "united in diversity" and should always respect human rights and democracy, based on the principle of human dignity.

We believe that the European Union is an important, inspirational force for democracy in many parts of the globe, and that it should be considered in some aspects a model for economic and political integration. One thing we can ask ourselves is the following: is the European Union a model for a real integration itself. Can we really integrate all the different communities in Europe? What is in fact our work in terms of tolerance, diversity and mutual respect? This was an issue that we discussed this morning.

Obviously, we are also turning to the countries of our neighbourhood, namely in the Southern Mediterranean, namely because of the recent events in some Arab countries. Events unfolding there are of historic proportions. In some cases we can make some comparison with transitions that we know in Central and Eastern Europe.

Our ‘Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity’ is one part of our answer to these developments, which we underpin by concrete financial support. So the EU must be on the side of those who aspire to political freedom, social development and justice. I believe this is a matter of values and I believe it is also in our interest. Human rights, democracy and freedom are at the heart of the European project, both within the EU and in its external action.

But I also believe that we can succeed and we should succeed because every human being, from whatever culture and regardless of his or her religious and confessional choices and ideas, has the same aspirations for freedom. And I would like to underscore, every human being, man or woman (in fact one of the points we have addressed today is the rights and the role of women in this fight for freedom), if he or she has the opportunity, will choose freedom. And when we speak about freedom, of course we speak also about religious freedom. The freedom to have a religion – this is more important than ever when we see some of the transitions that are now taking place.

I am glad that today's meeting is not only useful in itself, because it is a way of exchanging ideas in a very informal setting, but also it is a strong symbol, a strong expression of our willingness to work together promoting the values of freedom and democracy as well as the respect for human dignity as the most fundamental value of our societies.

I thank you for your attention.

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