European Cohesion Policy : The Role of Church actors
This theme has recently been developed in a Joint Position paper by the Secretariat of COMECE with the special contributions of the Kommissariat of the German Bishops and its ecumenical partners the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches and Representative of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
The reason for the Joint Position, which is presented here, is the current debate on the future of the EU Cohesion Policy. According to Article 3, Paragraph 3 of the TEU the aim of the European Union is “to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion as well as solidarity between the Member States”. The aim of regional policy is to reduce the structural disparities between the regions as well as promote balanced regional development and equal opportunities between them. Regional policy is an expression of solidarity within the European Union. Right up to the present time the Church actors have been active as partners in the Regional and Cohesion Policies in various ways and at different levels. The Churches and Church-related institutions are key actors in the areas of transnational cooperation, education, culture and social inclusion. Across national borders they are involved in social cohesion in Europe.
Church – regional, trans-regional, transnational
The Churches reflect in their structures and traditions the historical, cultural and geographical diversity of the European regions. They maintain contacts and relations among themselves. These trans-regional relationships take place in different ways. All over Europe there are church community partnerships, close institutional partnerships and encounter structures. Joint projects are realised in these ways, such as the linking and joint arrangement of transnational pilgrimage trails, like the Camino de Santiago. Furthermore, the Churches support the structuring of macroregional strategies, as evidenced in their support for the EU Danube strategy.
Churches and education in Europe
The Churches assume a responsibility for education in its various ways in the Member States of the EU. Seen from the standpoint of the Churches, an integral understanding of education in all its multiple aspects is crucial. Churches’ educational work is directed towards the personal development of the individual and promotes the transmission of values and social skills. It aspires to enable people to encounter the challenges of their everyday lives. In addition, education performs, from the Churches’ perspective, an important function as a means to equal opportunity; it helps to prevent poverty and social exclusion. Churches and their organisations can be found in all areas of education: they are active in the domain of formal school education, vocational training and higher education, while also offering a broad range of non-formal education services in the areas of children and youth work and adult education. As education providers in the non-formal system, Churches tend specifically to disadvantaged groups of the population and provide new opportunities for people who have fallen out of the formal education system. The Churches are providers of theological and inter-religious, intercultural and political education, also offering job-related assistance, especially for occupational groups in the area of social services, in addition to vocational training. Churches and their organisations also devote themselves to dealing with current social questions and issues, involving themselves in specialist discourses and working in transnational educational projects.
Church and culture in Europe
Christianity had and still has a powerful cultural influence on Europe. It is visible – among others – in Church buildings which characterise the appearance of the towns and villages. They are architectural witnesses to the Christian faith. Besides their being intended for the liturgy, church premises are also used for non-liturgical and parochial events, such as concerts, exhibitions and debates. They are anchor points of individual and collective identity of the human-being and his/her community. In addition, churches are also of architectural importance as monuments and are therefore part of the public interest. As historical and architectural-artistic treasures, they are of relevance beyond the Church. The Council of Europe stated back in 1989 that church buildings should, on account of their architectural and historical importance, be preserved as part of cultural heritage. They are often tourist attractions and have a positive economic impact on the entire region.
Furthermore, the Churches create – principally via the parish and church community structure – a broad range of services, thus making an important contribution towards preserving the cultural infrastructure. The Churches contribute substantially to the cultural richness of our society. Examples include choirs and instrumental groups, as well as the libraries operated by a large number of parishes, which offer to residents local access to literature and other media. Furthermore the Churches conduct an intercultural dialogue in multiple ways at local and regional level and beyond.
In this context Church sports clubs play an important role at the local level. Through participation in these clubs and associations, the development of social responsibility in general is practised. At the same time, in parishes and congregations or church organisations, people acquire important skills which enable and motivate them to become involved outside those communities and realise political or cultural objectives in association with others.
The social services that are provided by the Churches and their welfare organisations are part of the expression of the nature and existence of the Churches and a manifestation of their religious beliefs. Commitment to disadvantaged persons and combating poverty are fundamental areas of work for them. Churches and their welfare organisations offer their services to everyone in need without exception regardless of his/her religion, nationality and political convictions.
The Churches and their welfare organisations make every effort to identify social problems from the very beginning and to develop suitable responses. The meaningful function of the confessional work finds its expression in the particularity of Churches, for example in the pastoral support of self-help and volunteer groups, in hospice care or in the support with regard to “grieving”.
Furthermore the work of Churches contributes an indispensable element to the strengthening of the social culture. This refers in particular to social services, which are performed for example in hospitals, old peoples’ and nursing homes and in institutions for disabled persons. With institutions established throughout Europe in the areas of care for the elderly and disabled, as well as institutions caring for young people and families, the Churches’ welfare organisations make it possible for the weaker and less well-off members of our society to share and participate in that society. The Churches are also active in the social inclusion of low-income and unemployed people. By providing social housing accommodation, supporting the unemployed and promoting employment, they are also directly involved in overcoming social dividing lines. At the same time, Churches and their welfare organisations assume advocacy for those people who are not able to stand up for themselves. Therefore working with migrants and for the inclusion of the Roma people represents a further focus of Church involvement and commitment.
With and within their activities Churches and their welfare organisations become solidarity-makers, not only motivating people to participate in charity work but also offering them the opportunities for doing this. Thus they make a substantial contribution to the social infrastructure in Europe.
The full text of the Joint Position is available on the COMECE Homepage.
presented by Anna Echterhoff
Translated from the original text in German