“Be active partners in creating a better, fairer society.”
Cardinal Marx presents the Statement published on 20 March by the COMECE Bishops in view of the upcoming European elections.
An election is an important moment in the life of any democracy. Citizens are offered a singular opportunity to influence the destiny of their country. Their vote can affirm those governing in their name when policies have been successful; it can also caution governments going adrift. Citizens can punish governments who have not fulfilled their promises, or they can change the political colour and direction of their country.
In the months preceding an election, issues of concern to citizens are discussed openly in the media, at political meetings and in one-to-one encounters with candidates for parliament. Debate can be very fertile: it obliges citizens to reflect and form an opinion on particular issues, it forces those in office or seeking election to give account of themselves, and it generally brings into the public arena the questions which matter to society and which may determine its future.
Those factors which make national elections important also apply in the EU when it comes to elections to the European Parliament. On 22nd until 25th of May the citizens of the EU have the opportunity of casting their vote in elections which will determine the shape of the Union for the next five years. These elections are particularly significant. Not only will the outcome determine the composition and profile of the European Parliament, but indirectly they will also affect the European Council and European Commission at their most senior levels.
There will be a new President of the Commission. There will also be a new President of the European Council. This is the first election since the Lisbon Treaty came into effect. The Treaty gives the Parliament a bigger say in the election of the Commission President. The stakes in this election are high. All the more reason for citizens to take ownership of the EU project and go out and vote!
When the first elections to the European Parliament took place in 1979, there were only 7 Member States and there was a turn-out of 62%. Thirty years later when the EU embraced 27 Member States, the turn-out was a mere 43%. Now in 2014 we are an EU of 28 Member States and there are real fears that the turn-out may be even lower. One of the unfortunate consequences would be that political parties opposed to the European project might win a disproportionate number of seats in the European Parliament by default. That would be a pity, but that is the reality of a free and democratic society.
Pope John Paul II, due to be canonized a saint on 27 April, in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa published in 2003, emphasised how important it is for the Church to be present for and in Europe. That means ourselves living by the values we recommend to others, by having our church doors and our hearts open to all, especially the marginalised and vulnerable, those who slip through the net. Pope John Paul II wanted the Church to contribute to Europe, to share her wisdom with those making policy, to be active partners in creating a better, fairer society.
The Catholic bishops of Europe believe in and support the European project. We would encourage all EU citizens not only to go to the polling booths on 22nd and 25th May, but to engage in constructive dialogue with their MEPs and those candidates for office during the run-up to the election. Contact your MEP or candidate. Write to them. Visit their websites. If there are public hearings in your locality, go, take part, make your voice heard!
It is our view that citizens should vote with an informed conscience. We, as bishops, wish to raise the issues we feel should be of greatest concern not only to Christians but to all men and women of good will who care about the Europe of tomorrow and, in the longer term, the Europe they want their children to inherit.
We are presenting today a number of issues – by no means exhaustive – to which we wish to draw voters’ attention.
We believe that the foundational values of the EU – solidarity and subsidiarity – should be strengthened and enhanced.
Socio-economic policy must be rooted in a profound respect for human dignity.
Trans-Atlantic relations have always been important to Europe: family links, a shared culture, hugely significant trade, NATO, and many other ties between the USA and Europe contribute to the trans-Atlantic dynamic. Much work has already been done to fashion a free-trade zone between the US and the EU. We are aware that the new relationship raises a range of important ethical questions, and will impact on our relationship with the emerging economies and the developing world. Together with the US Bishops’ Conference, we at COMECE are following the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations very closely and would hope to openly share our reflections on it as it takes shape.
Europe is a continent on the move and we would make a plea that EU migration policy be humane, that integration of migrants be facilitated by host Member States. As our Statement makes clear, we plead for a fair and responsible distribution over the EU Member States of the responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers. Countries on the external borders of the EU must not be left alone in addressing the huge challenges caused by migration.
The on-going civil conflict in Syria and recent serious developments in the Ukraine raise a range of questions about Europe’s role on the world stage. We feel that the EU as an international player, as a community of values, and as a union of democratic Member States, has a very significant role to play in international relations right now, and tomorrow.
The other issues of concern to us are itemised in our Election Statement.
We encourage citizens to vote. Their vote should be an informed one. The platform of European Catholic lay movements IXE have developed a website that is designed to help citizens become informed on the issues at stake in this election. We would encourage use of the IXE website. It is inter-active and enables dialogue between EU policy, the social teaching of the Catholic Church, and the policy proposals of Christian organisations.
Reinhard Cardinal Marx
President of COMECE
The COMECE election statement is available in several languages under: