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José Manuel Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by José Manuel Barroso following his meeting with high-level religious leaders
30 May 2013
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure and honour to receive today - together with President Van Rompuy and Vice President Surján, who replaces President Schulz from the European Parliament - eminent representatives from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu religions.
These meetings have taken place annually for 9 years and so the dialogue between the European Union institutions and churches, religions and communities of convictions has become a very good tradition.
Our meeting today takes place also in the context of the European Year of citizens and 20 years after the introduction of the concept of European citizenship in the European treaties.
Therefore, the watchword of our annual meeting this year came up naturally: putting citizens at the heart of the European project in times of change; Our European future must not just be built for our citizens but also by our citizens. Throughout the European year of citizens, the European Commission is highlighting the rights and benefits that come with European Union citizenship.
But citizenship is not only about rights. It is also about responsibilities and values. Faced with the crisis, we feel stronger than ever how much we need the values of solidarity and equity.
The crisis also goes along with a rise of old fears that we know existed in Europe in the past and that can come indeed any time. The crisis has given rise to extremism populism in some places and we remain extremely vigilant regarding these trends, including all forms of discrimination.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This was a very informal discussion. I have to tell that I very much appreciated the contributions made by all the participants, where from different points of view but always with a common purpose to serve the common good, there were very important elements for the discussion. There were so many themes that I will not risk now summarizing them, because now in the afternoon, we will continue our discussion.
Recently, I have also taken the initiative to help formulate a new 'narrative' for Europe with contributions from the world of culture and creativity. Today we are inviting religious organisations across the European Union to voice their ideas about the future of Europe, about our European values, social issues and questions of solidarity. And during the debate we understand clearly that it is not about ideas only. Many of those churches are doing very important work in our societies across Europe, namely fighting the problems of poverty. And one of the points that I can highlight among many others, is the issue of how important it is, the role of the integrated associations in our societies. Our societies are not just between citizens and the state or European institutions. Institutions of the society, the civil society, institutions like the churches, the religious communities have an extremely important role in the very dense fabric of Europe and I know how important is the role they are playing in addressing many of these pressing situations, namely in terms of social needs.
I am deeply convinced, that both, those who find in religion the source of human values, as well as those seeing these values as arising from non-confessional sources have an essential contribution to make and the debate today has once again confirmed the importance of having this debate and this action at European and citizens level
I thank you for your attention.
During the questions and answers session, President Barroso said the following:
"(…) Now it has become a tradition so probably it sounds trivial, but this is more than a photo opportunity, this is much more than a photo opportunity. Unfortunately there many other parts in the world where this kind of gathering would not be possible, and I want to underline that point. In Europe we have problems like the ones that have been highlighted and they are serious and we should not underestimate them but I want to call your attention, that at this moment we are speaking here, in many parts of the world people are being killed or persecuted because there is no freedom of religion. And this is extremely important. So, this is more than a photo opportunity, this is a symbol of what in Europe we are trying to do in terms of living together."