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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 Vice President, László Surján, and religious leaders /Brussels
12 July 2012
It is my pleasure and honour to receive today - together with President Van Rompuy and Vice President Surján (who replaces President Schulz) - eminent representatives from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions as well as from the Hindu and Bah'ai communities.
As you know, we have been meeting annually since 2005. And today we meet for the third time under the Lisbon Treaty, which formalised this dialogue between the EU and religions on the one hand and with philosophical and non-confessional organisations on the other.
The topic of our meeting touches the very heart of our societies: Solidarity between generations. This is a key challenge for all of us. The way we tackle it, and other demographic challenges, will determine directly Europe's strength in the future.
There is no better occasion than the "2012 European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between generations" to draw attention to this issue. I want this year and today's meeting to become an agent for change. Together, we have to find ways how to move towards a more sustainable model of society, building on fundamental values like human dignity and social justice, and with sustainable and inclusive growth as its motor.
To tackle the economic crisis, we have been doing a lot to ensure the right balance between solidarity and responsibility among Member States. But we need to devote at least as much attention to solidarity and responsibility among the young and the old. Ultimately, we will only be able to come out of this crisis and lay the foundations of a prosperous future if we keep solidarity between people and generations at the heart of our actions. This is the glue that holds our societies together.
Demographic developments, unacceptably high levels of unemployment, low labour market participation of women and people over 55, and pension systems that constitute a time-bomb for some of our member states' public finances, put high strains on the principle of solidarity.
If we continue like that, we would not only put at risk our competitiveness and our economic and political weight in the world. There is also a wider risk for the basic principle of solidarity, for social peace and for the European model of society at large. I believe this is for all of us an unacceptable perspective.
As I said before: we are now in a defining moment for European integration and the European Union. And let me add: When articulating our vision for the future, increased solidarity among generations must be part and parcel of our efforts, and we must shape it in a way that it benefits both the older and the younger generations.
So, today in the meeting, we heard very important contributions, some of them very inspiring. We will continue our work during lunch with all our participants. I cannot now comment precisely on the topics, but let me just highlight some of the positions that the Commission has been taking over the past years in terms of actions that facilitate intergenerational solidarity:
European laws like the directive 2000/78/EC combating discrimination at the work place and Directive 2010/18/EC on Parental Leave are just two examples for a legal framework conducive to more intergenerational solidarity.
Secondly, EU funding programmes like the European Social Fund, Erasmus, Youth in Action or PROGRESS provide support for civil society.
Thirdly, we have recently launched a Youth Opportunities Initiative centred on skills development and skills-matching and on increased labour mobility. Our Action Teams on youth unemployment have helped Member States to reallocate around 7 billion euros to actions supporting youth employment. At least 450.000 young people are likely to benefit.
And last but not least, our country-specific recommendations, just adopted by the Council, guide Member States through the sometimes painful path of reform for sustainable growth and convergence.
Today's meeting is a very good occasion to exchange views on these huge challenges and the answers we are providing. Religious communities can make an important contribution to this.
Churches and religious communities are well placed to build bridges in our societies.
In our meeting, we all acknowledge that credible solutions are only within reach if we are working hand in hand, across the different segments of society, towards a common goal: a stronger, more cohesive Europe, in which all of our citizens have their rightful place.
I thank you for your attention!