Someone asked me last week why they should bother coming to the State of Europe Forum in Malta on May 7&8, four weeks from now.
For those content with the way things are developing in Europe, then the forum would be irrelevant. For folk happy for politicians to decide about our futures without faith-based perspectives, then this would also not be their event. For those mainly focused on their own church or locality (a very valid focus and calling), then a pan-European event like this is also not a priority.
However, for those who are concerned by the events of the past few days – the terrorist attack in Stockholm, the Syrian gas attack and the American response, the triggering of the Brexit process unleashing unknown consequences – then maybe Malta is where they should be next month to meet with fellow believers and specialists who share their concerns about Europe becoming a place of hope, healing and hospitality.
These specialists include, among others, General Arie Vermeij, recently retired from Dutch army and NATO service; Dr Henrik Syse of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; Florica Chereches, Romanian MP; Dr Katrine Camilleri, refugee lawyer activist; Dr Lyndon Drake, Oxford-based economist and theologian; Dr Peter Farrugia, consultant to the President of Malta; Dr Vilver Oras, Estonian pastor and politician with crisis management portfolio; Jennifer Tunehag, anti-human trafficker and activist with the European Freedom Network, and Branislav Skripek, Slovakian MEP.
These names are perhaps not widely known. This time last year I knew less than half of them myself. But through personal contact with each of them over the past year, I have grown in my understanding of how much we need to hear their perspectives.
The forum programme resonates with most of the priorities set by the Maltese presidency of the EU: responding to security threats, sustainable and humane approaches to migration, countering terrorism, shaping the future of a post-Brexit EU, promoting just and fair economic practices, stabilising Europe’s neighbouring regions, and promoting social inclusion and cohesion over populist polarisation.
Yet one major difference with the official presidency programme will be the place of the gospel in shaping our responses to these issues. Separation of church and state is too often assumed to mean faith perspectives have no place in the public square. Too often we of the faith communities have allowed ourselves to be sidelined, or have even chosen to stand on the sidelines and criticise.
But the future of Europe is far too important to leave just to politicians. Here is where we as the body of Christ need to step up to the challenges facing us right now. We are at a crossroads in European history – and not for the first time. Christians from all walks of life need to engage in this process.
Europe is larger than the EU of course. Yet the EU remains the defining entity for the continent, including a post-Brexit Britain, as well as Norway, Switzerland and Ukraine. The European Union leaders are asking for input from the faith communities and civil society at large. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, released last month a White Paper on the future of Europe for broad debate. The paper outlines five scenarios for Europe by 2025: 1) carrying on as before; 2) an EU gradually re-centred on the single market; 3) a multi-speed EU; 4) a scaled-down EU doing less more efficiently; 5) or an EU doing much more together.
We have posted this paper and the following helpful resources on the State of Europe Forum website for pre-forum reading:
Reflections of the Church in Malta – Maltese churches urge the EU to return to the values of the EU founding fathers and to consider the European project as more than just a common market.
What future for Europe – This open letter from the Conference of European Churches calls churches in Europe to an intensive discussion on the future of our continent, the role of the European Union and our vision of shared values.
Brexit in a Fractured Europe – Paul Mills and Michael Schluter explore in this latest Cambridge Paper the role and responsibility the Christian community has in promoting dialogue and peacemaking. How can faith communities engage in the political sphere?
After Brexit, what can revitalise the EU? Schuman scholar Krijtenburg argues that Robert Schuman’s principles of •Reconciliation, •Effective solidarity, •Equality between the partners, and •Subsidiarity & supranationality still can contribute tremendously to the solution of today’s crises: climate change, war and migration, unemployment and poverty.
Today many have lost faith in the promise of a united Europe. There is widespread mistrust of political elites. Yet when we pray for God’s will to be done in Europe, we need to engage in re-imagining a Europe of hope, healing and hospitality.
Which is why we are gathering next month in Valletta. If the above issues do bother you, check out this website.
Till next week,