Vienna, 11 February 2010 – „Churches and religious communities form an integral part of European history and European identity. An open, transparent, and regular dialogue with their representatives on a pan-European level should therefore be self-evident. A clear voice given to the churches is of great significance not only for the European unification but also for strengthening the acceptance of the Union among the people“, said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger after his meeting with the Austrian representatives of the churches and religious communities, who included Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (Catholic Church), Bishop Michael Bünker (Evangelical-Lutheran Church), Dean Thomas Hennefeld (Evangelical-Reformed Church), Archpriest and President of the Ecumenical Council of Churches Nicolae Dura (Romanian-Orthodox Church), Chorepiskopos Emanuel Aydin (Syrian-Orthodox Church), and Bishop Johannes Okoro (Old Catholic Church).
The main topic of the meeting was the implementation of the new "dialogue clause" contained in the EU Treaty of Lisbon. For the first time, a basic dialogue between the Union and the churches and religious communities is defined on EU level, and these are recognized in their specific identity.
The church representatives also informed the Foreign Minister about the Year of Migration 2010 proclaimed by the European Churches. Spindelegger: "To successfully manage the challenges of asylum, migration, and integration, we need the joint commitment of all social and political forces. Especially the ecclesiastical approach, which is based on human rights, human dignity, and solidarity, is indispensable in this discussion. With their corresponding activities and initiatives, the churches are essentially contributing to social cohesion and peace in Europe.“
The Foreign Minister stressed Austria’s worldwide engagement for the protection of religious freedom and the improvement of the situation of religious minorities, especially in the Muslim world: „Austria devotes great attention to the protection of religious freedom, especially for Christian minorities. We react on all levels - within the EU, the United Nations, or in my bilateral meetings.The proven Austrian practice of continuous dialogue with all religious communities and the protection of religious rights is a model which is appreciated throughout Europe and which we would like to export".
With regard to the not yet legally binding decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Lautsi vs. Italy on the issue of crucifixes in classrooms, Spindelegger welcomed the Italian appeal: „Tolerance, cultural diversity, and social peace are the basic pillars of our European system of values. Each individual state, however, must be given a certain margin of discretion to take into account historically grown peculiarities. I believe it is important that the ECHR takes into account in its decision the year-long understanding of the law of the signatories to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, according to which the presence of religious symbols in public spaces does not run counter to the freedom of religion. On the contrary, everyone is entitled to exercise their religion or ideology as individuals or collectively, in public or in private.“
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