News

COMECE Plenary

30/11/2007

Below there is a brief summary of major items under discussion

Bishops representing their respective national conferences of EU countries met last week at the COMECE plenary meeting in Brussels.

Climate Change
COMECE is planning to set up a high level expert group on climate change and Christian lifestyle.
The group, made up of experts from across Europe, will prepare a report for the COMECE 2008 plenary on:

  • the EU’s role in combating climate change within the EU and across the world.
  • Possible consequences for the daily life of people across the world.
  • An evaluation on the burden of climate change and possible opportunities from a Christian point of view.

G8 process
COMECE is to provide more effective assistance to the G8 process by setting up a contact group with experts appointed by the various European Bishops’ Conferences. One aim would be to co-ordinate approaches from the various countries to their respective governments in the lead-up to Italy’s presidency of the G8 in 2009 and for adoption at La Maddelena summit in 2009. Recognising that the G8 is an increasingly important body for managing globalisation the Bishops’ Conferences will be looking to provide more effective assistance to the G8 process.

The importance of engaging with this process was recognised by Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the diplomatic corps in Vienna on September 7, 2007:

“The oft-cites process of globalisation cannot be halted, yet it is an urgent task and a great responsibility of politics to regulate and limit globalisation, so that it will not occur at the expense of the poorer nations and of the poor in wealthier nations and prove detrimental to future generations.”

Migrants
The focus was on three areas:

  • Ethical concerns relate to the circular migration initiative
  • Insistence on the need to improve the EU return directive
  • The need to share the burden with Malta, which is unable to cope with the passage of migrants through its territorial waters.

Malta is responsible for search and rescue across 250 square kilometres (comparable with the size of the United Kingdom) in the Southern Mediterranean. Many boats carrying migrants pass through these waters on the way to mainland Europe, often running into trouble, and Malta is simply unable to cope. It is looking for a co-ordinated and unified approach to the issue. Bishop William Kenney, representing England & Wales, has written to the Maltese conference offering assistance through UK government, CAFOD and Caritas. A response is awaited.

Bishop Kenney also called for work into the area of people trafficking. He also called on the COMECE secretariat to work on proposals to be tabled at the next plenary on recommendations towards integration and also potential amnesties for irregular migrants. While individual conferences would take this up with their respective governments, COMECE would work on an EU-wide approach.

EU-Africa relations
The EU will adopt an EU-Africa joint strategy on 8 December, 2007. The joint strategy aims to establish:

  • a partnership of equals
  • this will address bi-lateral issues as well as common global challenges
  • the promotion of integrated “Africa as a whole” approaches

Discussions focused on the need to improve Africa’s economy (African exports to the EU have declined as a proportion of total EU imports over the past 10 years) through bi-lateral agreements and regional integration. The need for transparency of import/export tariffs at border crossings was seen as essential if endemic corruption was addressed. Getting rid of unnecessary red-tape was also seen as essential to improving Africa’s economy.

S tate of the Balkans
A report on the Balkans suggested that ethnic tensions are returning. Peace has not yet been achieved and 12 years after civil war, there has been recent upsurge in nationalism. There has also been a reluctance to accept the ethnic cleansing and massacres that occurred during the civil war. In addition there has been a huge growth in crime (mainly drug smuggling and people trafficking), which coupled with the lack of investment, has led to a huge black economy.

The final piece of the Balkan jigsaw is that whereas other Eastern European countries rejected communism and embraced the move to Western European economic models, in the Balkan states it was a rejection of Tito and this has slowed the process towards integration.

The timetable for eventual membership of the EU has not been finalised, but both Croatia and Macedonia are candidate countries, with a planned joining date of 2014. Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo are all potential candidate countries.
The three steps for eventual membership are

  1. EU bi-lateral agreement (not just commercial, but also stability eg peace with neighbours)
  2. Positive steps towards negotiations
  3. Negotiations

The troika of US, Russia and Germany continue to look for a new solution with regards to Kosovo, but past attempts have been blocked by Serbia, with Russian backing. If Kosovo goes ahead and declares independence, there will be a major challenge to the EU to keep the peace and keep the road to greater integration on track.

In Brief
The fate of Iraqi refugees was debated, with Bishops calling for greater efforts to be made in the humanitarian effort and in attempts to bring about peace and stability in Iraq and across the Middle East
Extensive discussions were held about the EU Reform Treaty, which is due to be ratified this month. Further details of the effects of the Treaty will be published by COMECE following the Lisbon Conference.
Changes to the EU’s labour laws and developments in Bio-ethics and a proposed code of conduct for responsible nanoscience and nanotechnologies research will also be available in the new year.

COMECE
COMECE is the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community. It is made up of Bishops delegated by the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of the European Union and it has a permanent Secretariat in Brussels.
There are 24 delegate bishops from the Bishops' Conferences in the EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England & Wales, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scandinavia, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain – and the Archdiocese of Luxembourg.
Croatia and Switzerland have associate status.

Objectives
- To monitor and analyse the political process of the European Union
- To inform and raise awareness within the Church of the development of EU policy and legislation
- To promote reflection, based on the Church's social teaching, on the challenges facing a united Europe