World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Statement on Europe

02 September 2003

WCC Central Committee, Geneva, 26 August-2 September, 2003


There have been significant developments and changes within Europe in recent
years, throughout the continent. In particular since the meeting of the last Central
Committee of the World Council of Churches, a year ago, decisions have been
made to enlarge the European Union with ten new members and, linked to that,
to draft a new European Constitution.

Europe is a diverse and evolving region, with multiple geographic, economic and
religious parameters. In the final years of the 20th century, Europe has experienced
some of the most profound changes in its history. The revolutions which
swept through Central and Eastern Europe after 1989 liberated millions of people
from repressive and often violent regimes. The momentous events of the last
decade mark an end to the partitioned Europe of Yalta, and they offer the real
hope of a new and inclusive community from the North Sea to the Caspian - and
beyond. The enlargement of the European Union to the east and south in 2004,
and the expansion of NATO, along with the proposals for a new European
Constitution by the Convention on the Future of Europe, will be decisive factors
in shaping the destiny of the continent.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva 26
August-2 September, 2003, recognizes the profound and dynamic changes taking
place across the European continent. The last resolution on Europe was adopted
by the Central Committee, 21-28 August, 1992; in it, the Central Committee:
Alerted member churches to the promise and challenge of greater European integration.
Recognized the progress made by the EC in redressing regional imbalances, combating
poverty and advancing the social rights of all its peoples.

Affirmed the need to speak out and maintain dialogue on poverty, economic
inequities, refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, racism, xenophobia, anti-
Semitism, environment and relationships with other European states and with
the two-thirds world.

Drew attention to the presence of ecumenical institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg
and to the resources and expertise they offer to the churches.

Noted with appreciation the role played by CEC (Conference of European Churches)
and recommended enhanced cooperation between EECCS (European Ecumenical
Commission for Church and Society), CEC and the WCC on matters of concern
related to European unity and its global implications.

The concerns of the ecumenical movement and the member churches in relation
to the European institutions remain as identified in the WCC Central Committee
resolution of 1992. Most of these concerns are handled primarily by European
actors in the ecumenical movement, such as the Conference of European Churches
(CEC) in the areas of European integration, economic issues, democracy, human
rights, bioethics and religious liberty, or Eurodiaconia in addressing economic
and social issues, or the churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME)
for refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities, or Aprodev in regard to development
policies. The role of the WCC is to work with European ecumenical organizations
by bringing in the global dimension, provide support when requested,
and collaborate on issues of common concern.

Since the resolution 11 years ago, there have been major changes within as well
as outside the European Union. Some boundaries have broken down, and new
ones have been created.

Within the European Union three new, economically advanced and net contributing
members have entered the community, making the total 15 member states.
Twelve of the 15 members have come together into the common currency, the
euro. There has been a gradual development of the Common Foreign and Security
Policy, including the establishment of a Rapid Reaction Force, in particular as a
result of the experience with the war in the former Yugoslavia. After the European
Council in Copenhagen in December 2002, accession agreements have been signed
with 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, who will
become members of the EU in 2004.

Related to the enlargement, the Convention on the Future of Europe presented
its draft Constitution in June 2003; in article 51, the role of the churches is
affirmed in what is a new way for the EU: "The Union respects and does not prejudice
the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities
in the Member States."…. "The Union equally respects the status of
philosophical and non-confessional organizations.".... "Recognizing their identity
and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent
and regular dialogue with these churches and organizations."

The European Union also has developed its cooperation with its neighbours and
the rest of the world. In the "Barcelona process", we have seen increased cooperation
with the countries south and east of the Mediterranean. There is a treaty
establishing the European Community on the one hand and The Georgetown
Agreement establishing the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP)
on the other. Together they formulated in Benin, June 2000, a partnership agreement
called the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that replaces the former Lomé
Convention, affirming among other things their commitment to work together
towards the achievements of poverty eradication and sustainable development.
There have been significant social and economic changes in the continent, both
within and outside the EU. Many countries in the former Soviet Union have a
significantly lower GDP, compared to 15 years ago. The social security systems
in Western Europe are challenged with an ageing population and changing economic
conditions. The Common Agricultural Policy, which still is using the lion's
share of the EU budget, is challenged for being socially, financially, environmentally
as well as globally untenable.

Since 1992, several sub-regional structures for cooperation have developed, such
as the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), contributing further to European
integration. Important contributions, in particular relating to human rights,
minority rights, democracy, the rule of law and development of civil society have
also been made by the more inclusive European institutions, the Council of Europe
and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

NATO, the military alliance remaining from the Cold War, has also changed. It
has developed its crisis management capacity, contributed its first out-of-area
operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, reached an agreement of cooperation with
Russia and invited Central and Eastern European countries to become new members.
However, in particular during the last two years, there has been a growing
division between the US and European member states on fundamental issues of
security - pre-emptive strike, international law, the role of the UN and how to
meet the threat from weapons of mass destruction.

The European ecumenical structures relating to the European institutions have
changed and developed over the past decade. One important example is the merger
of the Brussels-based European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society
(EECCS) with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the development
of closer working relations with the Roman Catholic COMECE (Commission of
the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community). One specific expression
of this ecumenical climate is the Charta Oecumenica, which provides a tool for
furthering cooperation between churches on local, national and European level.
The religious and ecumenical context of Europe is complex and varied, and religious
pluralism must be recognized by churches and societies alike. The great
majority of religious adherents is Christian, from the Catholic, Orthodox and
Protestant traditions. Significant indigenous Muslim communities exist, particularly
in the Balkans, the Caucasus regions and other parts of Russia, alongside
multiple immigrant religious communities. Religious affiliation is to some extent
related to geography, and has been a decisive factor in cultural and social development.
The level of religious practice varies highly across the region. In Western
Europe, historical churches have experienced a decline in membership, while many
Diaspora churches from the South have taken root, parallel with new forms of
religious faith. Many churches in Central and Eastern Europe have undergone a
powerful spiritual and material revival over the last decade, following the period
of communist persecution. Religious and ecumenical relations are similarly complex.

In some places the ecumenical idea has become part of the self-identity of
churches, but there are also churches and religious communities in conflict. In
many countries, the period has been marked by the return of the churches and
religion to the "public sphere" as important political and social actors. The churches
are called to contribute to and influence the developments which are shaping
Europe. Christianity has influenced European history, and the contribution and
responsibility of the churches and religious communities, including Judaism and
Islam, must be recognized.

The significance of this period calls WCC member churches to reflect on, and
engage in, developments in Europe.

The focus of the WCC

The WCC policy focuses primarily on four areas where Europe interacts with
other regions - the values in shaping European unity, the European process of
integration, a Europe in balance with its global neighbourhood and the role of
Europe for peace and security. The implementation of the WCC's policy should
be in close cooperation with the European ecumenical organizations.

A. Churches and values in shaping European unity

During the course of the last century, Europe experienced revolution and upheaval
on an unprecedented scale. Millions perished in wars and in the concentration
camps and gulags of communist and Nazi regimes. The vision of modern European
unity was born out of this context of violence and conflict, hoping for peace and
democracy throughout the continent. Modern Europe has been at the heart of
much of the extraordinary social, political and creative development of the postwar
world. Churches and other religious institutions continue to have a central
responsibility in the historical development of the continent.

The recent experience of European history teaches us that the vision and success
of European unity and peace cannot be built simply on the market economy.

People and societies are transformed by beliefs and ideas, as well as by transactions
and trade. A "heart and soul", a rediscovery and renewal of values and spirituality
for Europe, are needed more than ever. But historically the churches have
too often been vehicles of nationalist tendencies and crucibles of conflict. The
churches can and must unlock their healing and peacemaking power in society,
and find the inner resources to witness to a new hope that can be offered to Europe.

The WCC member churches must uphold the principle that churches and religious
communities are vehicles of culture and identity, an essential foundation
for a moral and ethical Europe, and must be recognized as partners in dialogue
by the European institutions.

B. European integration: towards a deeper and wider Europe

Because they are the most inclusive European institutions and are mandated to
handle issues of utmost importance to the churches, the Council of Europe and
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe remain priorities for the
WCC and the ecumenical movement when relating to European integration.

Also among the founders of the European Union, there was a common understanding
of the need to solve problems and disagreements together, rather than
on one's own. This multilateral experience of solving common problems and meeting
common challenges together, rather than on their own - the culture of political
compromise - offers a political model for multilateral cooperation.

Europe has experienced profound divisions for most of its history, but recent political
developments have shifted the focus to integration and unity. These developments
offer the chance for a peaceful, democratic and just Europe stretching
from Iceland to the Caucasus. The political search for an inter-dependent Europe,
built on social and economic justice, is advocated by churches.

However, many historic divisions and challenges remain. Others are entering into
the scene or becoming more significant as a result of the changing societies, like
racism, ethnic tensions and trafficking of human beings. Inclusion of new countries
into the European Union means new borders between neighbors. Failure to
accept migrants means new boundaries between people. A number of factors will
affect the success and the depth of European integration, including geography,
economics, history, culture - and religion.

WCC member churches should support the vision of an inclusive, wider Europe,
where unity is based on respect for diversity in history, culture and faith. European
unity should be built on a new and deeper encounter of cultures and civilizations,
in which the churches will have an essential role. Therefore, the decision by the
European Union to include in the next stage of European Union enlargement the
nations of Romania and Bulgaria, countries with a majority Orthodox population,
is an essential and welcome step. Similar attention must be given to the
countries of the Western Balkans, to overcome the recent period of severe conflict
and instability.

A wider European integration must give careful consideration to the contribution
of Russia and the other CIS countries, as well as Turkey; these nations have
been and continue to be major political and cultural forces in the European context.

Churches should also contribute to the deepening of European understanding
and integration. The continued importance of the cultural and religious divides
of the continent should not be underestimated in the integration process. The
schism between the Byzantine East and the Latin West, between the Orthodox
and Catholic and, later, the Protestant worlds, marks one fundamental rupture
in European history, and a distortion of European identity. The progressive
enlargement of the European Union has, until recently, closely paralleled
the historical territory of Western Christendom. New ways of bridging this
divided space and memory, and of building new perceptions, through means
such as open dialogue on different value systems, need to be sought by the

C. Europe in balance with its global neighbourhood

Globalization means that Europe's security and future must be sought in harmony
with the rest of the world. Therefore, free and fair trade, development assistance,
multilateral work for social justice, sustainable development and a healthy
environment, human rights, public health and disarmament should be seen as
forward-looking policies in Europe's own interest.

Europe's relation to the South has been marked by imperialism and colonial relations
which continue to influence EU policies on development and trade. However,
colonial experiences are limited to certain member states, and within an enlarged
EU they will be in a minority. This offers a possibility for a new self-understanding
of Europe's role in the world, to which the churches should contribute.

Although there is no lack of fine policy statements of EU institutions regarding
development cooperation, the translation of the lofty goals into actual practice
leaves much to be desired. A major issue is the lack of coherence between the
objective to eradicate poverty on the one hand, and the goals pursued by trade,
agricultural, fisheries and foreign policy on the other hand. Conflicting interests
within and between Member States as well as the complexity of EU policy-making
exacerbate this incoherence.

The subsequent Lomé Conventions between the ACP and EU, combined a development
cooperation agenda with non-reciprocal trade arrangements. Under the
influence of trade liberalization policies pursued in the context of the World Trade
Organization, this combination has been abandoned in the Cotonou Partnership
Agreement, which basically aims at establishing free-trade arrangements. Although
trade preferences are still given to the so-called Least Developed Countries (under
the Everything But Arms initiative), the contractual nature of non-reciprocal
trade relationships has been lost. As free trade between unequal partners tends to
benefit the strongest, the WCC and member churches are called to critically monitor
EU-ACP trade negotiations for the coming years.

The lack of vision for and consensus on a future sustainable social model for Europe
make it difficult for the EU to develop a coherent policy towards the rest of the
world and to provide a clear alternative voice to the US in the international financial
institutions. This lack of coherent policy may also be seen in the immediate
neighbourhood, where on average, the people living to the north of the Mediterranean
basin are economically 12 times better off than their southern counterparts. If the
present policy of the EU continues to be carried out, promoting free trade in areas
where Europe is strong but not in areas where the partner countries have comparative
advantages, the gap might widen still more. This is a situation which
will increase the risk of conflict, fan social tension and increase the number of
refugees. The European churches need to address the values and principles of these
issues in a clear way.

During the last three decades it has become increasingly clear that environmental
resources are not available in unlimited amounts. As market prices do not
incorporate sufficiently the limited availability and the environmental scarcity
related to consumption of goods, their overuse, in particular of fossil fuels, has
become systemic in Europe as well as in the rest of the OECD world. Europe contributes
significantly to the emission of greenhouse gases and thus to global warming.
This represents a burden on future generations and a reduced capacity for longterm
economic prosperity. It also represents a source of global tension. Extrapolating
current European industrial consumption and production patterns to the entire
world would require about ten times the number of existing resources. Europe is
accumulating an ecological debt in its relationships to other regions.

The perception of increasing migration to Europe and widespread xenophobic
sentiments have led governments to increase border surveillance, tighten asylum
processes, and adopt policies intended to deter potential asylum-seekers. Yet the
factors which compel asylum-seekers and migrants to seek entry into European
countries continue - wars, human rights abuses, poverty and lack of hope. The
tightening of borders and the lack of legal opportunities for migration have led
to an increasing role for traffickers and smugglers. Over the past years, thousands
of would-be migrants and asylum-seekers have lost their lives in their attempts
to cross European borders or arrive on European shores. Many immigrants find
themselves in irregular situations, often in deplorable conditions. In such conditions,
new forms of slavery are on the rise in Europe.

While the demographic reality suggests that migration may be beneficial to
European countries and while some European countries are encouraging highlyskilled
migrants, the overall trend is towards increasingly restrictive migration
and asylum policies. As European governments attempt to harmonize their policies
toward migrants and asylum-seekers, European churches are increasingly
challenged to develop common approaches across national and denominational
boundaries. The increasing presence of migrants in Europe also continues to raise
broader issues of inter-religious relations, the linkage between racism and xenophobia,
and questions about European identity itself. Churches are often called,
not only to minister to the needs of migrants, but also to confront their governments
concerning policies towards potential migrants and asylum-seekers.

Racism and xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance are not new elements
in the European contexts. Churches in Europe have a special role to play
in working to end racism and xenophobia in church and society.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, as a
"common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", much progress
has been made in the setting up of new international norms and standards on
human rights and humanitarian laws. Europe had much to contribute to this
development. In recent times Europe has witnessed an emerging diversity in its
societies that spreads across culture, politics, social and economic sectors. This
enrichment has contributed to the shaping of attitudes as well as a new under-
standing of the concept and meaning of human rights and the rights of minorities.
With the changing nature of state and society, as a result of globalization,
some of the above laws and standards need to be reviewed in light of the emerging
developments. The European Union by virtue of its history and experience
has a particular responsibility to contribute to this debate and ensure the respect
of human rights in all member states.

Europe has much to offer to its global neighbourhood. However, it is imperative
that Europe also learn from other societies. Historically, Europe has dominated
the rest of the world both militarily, politically, economically, technologically and
in terms of the dissemination of knowledge. This has created a euro-centric perception
of other regions and difficulties to value knowledge from other societies.
A balanced relation with other regions can only develop with interdependency
also in the field of knowledge, and the churches have an important role to play
in Europe in this transformation.

D. Europe and security

For too many years, the focus in European Security Policy has been on military
balance, nuclear weapons and power politics. Although we still cannot disregard
these factors, the great difference today is that security can be discussed and sought
within a much broader spectrum of measures, a shift from the traditional perspective
of mere national security towards including human security. There has
been a clear attempt by the EU to look upon security from a broader perspective,
to strengthen the political will for conflict prevention and to reinforce the capacity
for crisis intervention and peace-keeping.

However, when confronted with realities, the common foreign and security policy
of the EU has not been strong enough to sustain the different members' views.
The inability of the EU to maintain a common policy during the Iraq crisis of
2003 left the field open for the US alone to set the agenda.

There is also a risk that the capacity build-up within the Common Foreign and
Security Policy of the EU will leave the continent too strong on the military side
yet still too weak in civil instruments. Furthermore, there is no consensus among
the EU members about the need for a UN mandate for action involving military
force. In light of the illegal war against Iraq and the precedent that might set,
the European member churches of the WCC are asked to request their respective
governments to clarify their position on this basic principle in international law.
The early vision of a common European defence was never implemented. Today,
most EU members are also members of NATO. However, a minority maintain a
policy of military non-alignment. The new members from Central and Eastern
Europe have chosen membership of NATO as a means to safeguard their sovereignty.

This places heavy financial burdens on comparatively weak economies and
direct resources from civilian to military needs. The enlargement of NATO,
depending on how it is made, may also complicate the integration of Russia into
the rest of Europe. The experience of the out-of-area activities by NATO in Kosovo
and Afghanistan has shown the limits of the military alliance in meeting today's
complex threats to security and in building peace.

NATO is furthermore the most important tool of US involvement in Europe and
of European countries' influence on the US. However, the division between the
US and European countries on critical security issues - pre-emptive strike, international
law, role of UN and weapons of mass destruction - makes it difficult for
NATO to find its future direction. As the critical issues for NATO are strong
concerns for the WCC and member churches, it is necessary to follow these developments
closely. In particular, member churches in Europe and the US are asked
to find ways to address the disagreements between the two, in advocating for
global security based on international law and multilateral cooperation.