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Archbishop defends social cohesion


To Mr. J o s é M a n u e l B a r r o s o
President of the European Commission
1049 Brussels

Your Excellency Mister President,

The Orthodox Christian Church of Greece, as expresser of the faith of the overwhelming majority of Greeks, follows with particular interest and firmly endorses the political choices of the European Commission and of the European Union more broadly for the latter’s own and each individual member state’s development. It understands that the guiding force of the Commission is mainly economic development, so that the united Europe may successfully face global competition and thereby secure the well-being of European citizens in conditions of full employment.

Within this framework, we have welcomed and continue to support the initiative taken up by the European Union for the establishment of the “Lisbon Strategy”. We see that it suggests the implementation of specific measures and political choices that will lead to the strategic goal, which is for the European economy to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and with the broadest possible social cohesion.

Moreover, we are particularly glad to see that the Lisbon Strategy does not concentrate its efforts and goals solely on economic development but, at the same time and on an equal footing, on the achievement of broader social cohesion, so that social conflicts and exclusion be averted.

It is worth noting and praising the fact that, in the conclusions of the Presidency of the Lisbon European Council of March 23-24, 2000, as well as in those of the Brussels European Council of March 22-23, 2005, with regard to the attainment of the aforementioned strategic aim, special emphasis is given on the “modernisation of the European social model through investment in man and in the construction of an active welfare state”. This aim is an important and integral part of the Christian perception of society, which has its roots in the teaching of Jesus Christ and His Disciples. It is an aim that constitutes the true expression of the values and principles of our common European civilisation, which has always striven to intertwine economic progress with the rule of law. Moreover, it is an aim that conforms to our historical tradition, in which economic advancement was always regarded as a factor buttressing the freedom of man. This freedom, as has been epigrammatically stated, remains socially ineffective, if man has not secured nourishment, shelter, education and health. It was this realisation that led the states of Europe to build a relatively capable welfare state, willing to hold out a helping hand to the weak and to the non-privileged of life more broadly. It is an achievement we Europeans have always been proud of.

In view of the new conditions created at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the modernisation of the European social model is certainly an indispensable step on the part of the European Union and a constitutive element of the endeavour to achieve the aim of the Lisbon Strategy. However, under no circumstances could or should this modernisation lead to the revocation of its basic principles and rules so far. Undoubtedly, for the modernisation of the European social model, measures such as those contained in the text of the Lisbon Strategy are required, namely, for example, the reinforcement of education and training for a creative participation in the society of knowledge —with full respect, of course, for the principle of subsidiarity in matters of education—, the development of active policies regarding employment, the modernisation of social protection, the promotion of social cohesion. It goes without saying that the efforts towards modernisation aim at creating truly balanced human societies. This of course presupposes the growth of financial results and full employment but goes far beyond these.

Only if economic growth be pursued together with the heightening of shared social responsibility, will, Mr President, the European society be able to progress. Only if the pursuit of technological development be connected with sociality and spirituality, will it lead to an upgraded, higher-quality society. What the European needs is indeed a society marked by cohesion, unity and solidarity, by a sense of justice and understanding for the weak. Such a society will be able to tackle in the best possible way the problems that our imperfect society, as the work of man, will always have.

However, I am aware, Mister President, of the sad fact that the axioms of unrestrained competition and maximisation of profits dominates all layers of the population, every people the world over. Even so, the role of Europe is to project an alternative model of development, which, without relinquishing the demands and the rules of the open market, will have a humane face. The deification of personal profit, in whatever form this latter may be perceived, has always led human societies to decline. Therefore, together with the increase of economic competitiveness and the suggestion of specific measures for the modernisation of the European social model, the Lisbon Strategy should have been bolder and should have proposed further measures aiming at the modernisation of society in a way compatible with the principles and values of Christian religion and of European civilisation more generally. Along with the aim of creating the most competitive and most productive economy worldwide, the creation of the most sensitive society with a humane face should also constitute a strategic aim of the Union.

The issues seriously preoccupying the European citizens today, as became obvious from the referenda in France and the Netherlands, are numerous. Personally, I believe and hope that you too, Mr President, will agree, that the first and most serious of these issues is perhaps the sense that social cohesion is threatened. This threat is most intensely illustrated by the spectre of unemployment, and in particular the unemployment of the young and of women, with the ensuing uncertainty that this implies for the employees as regards the preservation of their jobs in the future. I would like to believe that there is now a broader consensus on the view that this problem will be resolved to a large extent by the creation of a competitive European economy, as provided by the Lisbon Strategy. However, until this goal is attained, all political and economic agents will have to show the highest degree of sensitivity to the employees and to the citizens who now feel threatened.

Thus, for instance, the phenomenon observed in some cases in the EU, namely that of replacing employees with full rights by immigrants with no rights at all, causes deep fractures to European society and brings about instances of conflictual coagulation. In other cases, the phenomenon of violating working hours at the expense of employees is also observed. It goes without saying that social cohesion cannot be promoted when employees succumb to pressures for fear of losing their jobs and thereby of putting their living standards at risk. Societies were never created by fear. Only servitude was caused by fear. We must therefore be extremely careful in this matter. Consequently, it is not a luxury but an absolute necessity that European businesses be helped in developing as much as possible a management based on the awareness of shared social responsibility.

We, being fully aware that economic development must safeguard social cohesion, welcome with particular satisfaction all statements made by European political leaders emphasising the fact that Europe needs a strong welfare state. Any disadvantages and contradictions the latter may have can and should be remedied on the immutable basis of the principle that it will do no good to Europe if it turns itself into an area of deprivation and insecurity. The worst development for Europe, a real nightmare, would be produced if competition among businesses were to be fully replaced by antagonism among individual employees for a job. If this sense is conveyed to the youth of the United Europe, Mr President, then the Union may survive but Europe will be forever lost.

A problem of critical importance for the future of Europe, Mr President, is the demographic problem of Europe. As is known to all, European society faces an acute problem of low fertility rates, which it tries to tackle by resorting to legal but often also illegal immigration. With no trace whatsoever of xenophobic treatment of the issue on the part of the Church of Greece, we believe that generous measures should be proposed for the support of the institution of the family. Whenever the prospect of having children became a burden and a factor of insecurity for families, a seismic collapse of societies ensued. To our mind, a successful treatment of the demographic problem would constitute the most vital and most profitable investment in European society.

The Church of Greece fervently supports the policies of the EU for the improvement of the position of immigrants but believes that Europe’s great interest in and financial support of the Third World and its citizens should be manifested mainly in their places of origin, so that the living standards of those people be improved in the places where they were born without their having to resort to the desperate process of illegal immigration, which puts their lives in danger, traumatises their dignity in so many ways and causes the devastation of their traditions.

Finally, Mister President, we believe that the Lisbon Strategy should have been more generous in measures and policies regarding the preservation, protection and improvement of the environment. Sustainable economic development, which is emphasized as an aim of the Treaties now in effect, should be the object of greater care. It is incumbent upon the European Union to teach all its citizens, all agents, whether public or private, and all peoples that economic and technological development should only take place within a protected environment, or else it will soon be pointless, since everything around us will have been devastated. Businesses with high-quality and socially responsible management should be supported, and in particular those with plans dependent precisely upon sustainable development. It is the duty of the European Union to teach everyone that either we shall hasten to save the environment in time or we shall have to prepare for the funeral service of our civilisation.

In closing, Mister President, as Primate of the Orthodox Christian Church in Greece, I would like to assure Your Excellency once again of our standing by the efforts made by the European Union for the sustainable economic development of Europe and for the modernisation of the European social model within the framework of the Lisbon Strategy, and to stress the need for this modernisation to be founded on the perpetual and indestructible values of Christianity and European civilisation, because, as is rightly emphasized in paragraph 24 of the text of the Lisbon Strategy, “human capital is Europe’s most important asset and as such it must be at the centre of its policy priorities”.

With best wishes and love,

+Christodoulos of Athens

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