Vienna, 14 May 2010 Press release

Spindelegger: "Europe’s Imams should think of themselves as dialogue and integration pilots"

Foreign Minister opens conference of European Imams and Pastors

Vienna, 14 May 2010 - „All Europeans, regardless of their religious denomination, are faced with the same challenges – training, employment, family establishment, and perspectives for the future. Our opportunity to find common solutions to these challenges lies in dialogue", said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at the opening of the third Conference of European Imams and Pastors in Vienna. The conference brings together Muslim clergymen from 40 European countries to Vienna. „Austria can look back to a long tradition of dialogue, especially with Islam in our country and with Muslims throughout Europe", said the Foreign Minister, pointing out to the upcoming 100th anniversary of the recognition of Islam in Austria in 2012.

The basic dialogue between the European Union and the churches and religious communities, enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, also represents a mandate for these to assume an active role in the development of a European community: "A Europe of diversity is based on universal human rights, the commitment to the rule of law and to democracy – regardless of the religious community we belong to. This also means a plea to the churches and religious communities to seek dialogue in their own denomination and to persuade their own members in favour of a united Europe, a European identity based on their values and principles ", said the Foreign Minister.

Moreover, the objective must be to strengthen the dialogue between the churches and the religious communities. For this reason, the Foreign Ministry has been supporting the conferences of the European Imams and Pastors since 2003: "It is important that these meetings do not only include individual Islamic interest groups, but integrate as many voices, initiatives, and organisations of Islam in Europe as possible", said Spindelegger.

With regard to the current discussions, the Foreign Minister underscored that the hard-won religious freedom in Europe, especially that of religious minorities, is still not granted in many countries. The struggle for religious freedom is not only about rights, privileges, and duties: „We must regard religious freedom in Europe as an invitation to actively shape the objectives and values of the European Union. Religious freedom in Europe is an opportunity to further develop the European common good", said Spindelegger, adding that "The Imams and Pastors of Europe should therefore think of themselves as dialogue and integration pilots, and assume their responsibility for a common European future".

In this context, since 2008 the Foreign Ministry has been organizing training courses on regional studies for Turkish religious envoys, together with partner organisations and with the support of the European Integration Fund.

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