On Friday 6 January, a joint delegation from the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) met with the Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Joseph Muscat, and representatives of the government of Malta at the start of their six month Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The meeting was convened to discuss common concerns, especially relating to the priorities of the Maltese presidency including migration, neighbourhood policy, and social inclusion.
“Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union offers our nation the opportunity to give a strong impetus to revitalizing faith in the European project,” said the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Charles J. Scicluna.
Issues relating to migration and the reception of refugees in Europe dominated the hour-long meeting. Both government and church representatives expressed the need to reframe this discourse, including speaking of the benefits of migration for European societies and emphasising opportunities to welcome those in need of safety in Europe. The churches also reiterated their call for improved safe and legal pathways to Europe, the central importance of family unity and reunification, and the work churches do in local contexts in providing transformative encounters with refugees.
The CEC-COMECE delegation also encouraged the Maltese government to take a holistic, global approach as they make progress in each of their priority areas. Responses to migration and the reception of refugees must take into account the root causes of the displacement of people, including ecological crises. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and their coherence with European Union policies are one area for developing a robust and balanced approach.
The meeting of CEC and COMECE with the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union took place under Article 17 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. This is a commitment of the EU to open, transparent, and regular dialogue with churches and religious communities. The churches were grateful for the opportunity to meet early in the presidency, which began on 1 January 2017.
Representatives of the Government of Malta:
The Hon. Dr Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister
The Hon. Mr Louis Grech, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Affairs
The Hon. Dr George Vella, Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Hon. Dr Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for EU Presidency and EU Funds
Representatives of COMECE and CEC:
His Grace Mgr. Charles J. Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta
His Lordship Mgr. Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo
Right Reverend Dr Robert Innes, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Church of England
Mgr Joseph Galea Curmi, Vicar General
Rev. Prof. Emanuel Agius, Dean, Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta
Ms Doris Peschke, General Secretary, Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe
Br Olivier Poquillon, OP, General Secretary, Commission Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union
Ms Erin Green, Communication Coordinator, Conference of European Churches