European network on religion & belief – 28th November

Last year’s Brêakfåst in Mültifaitħ Eŭrőpe during Inter Faith Week was a great success, despite the early hour.   Catch up with the latest news on the Europe page.

This year, we are meeting at Europe House, the European Parliament’s United Kingdom Office in Westminster, on Monday 28th November.

We’ll meet at 12.45pm for 1-2pm, with extra time for networking after that.  I guess we should call italthough you’d be wise to bring your own tiffin/sandwiches/piece if your lunchtime requirements go beyond light refreshments.

Let me know if you’d like to know more or download an invitation here.  You will need to add your name to the guest list at www.multifaitheurope.eventbrite.co.uk.  The planning group is working towards a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels next year.

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The EU’s dialogue with religious & philosophical organisations

The European religious leaders, including Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain (top, second from right).

During the morning of Monday 30th May, the EU presidents (there are three!) hosted their annual discussion and lunch with religious leaders.

The meeting took place in Brussels – you can read more about it here.

In the afternoon, there was another meeting (top marks to the religious leaders who managed both) to explore how Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty should be implemented by the EU Parliament.

This was described as “a dialogue about the dialogue”.  Dialogue is not my favourite word – but dialogue² turned out to be familiar and fascinating in turn.

Article 17 sets out the EU’s responsibilities thus:

1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.

2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

This was the first meeting open to religious (and multifaith) groups to have a look at what this might mean in practice and, as we discussed at our last meeting, LBFN was pleased to be there.

Familiar: the usual tussle over representation – it’s much easier to communicate with a few people who are near the top of large hierarchical organisations (eg the Church of England) than with hundreds of smaller religious groups which have flatter organisational structures and a complex pattern of relating to each other (eg newer Christian denominations, some of the minority faith traditions in Europe).  The default position of talking only to leaders of major religious & philosophical organisations means that quite a few people are left out – for example, women (there were no women at all on the panel at the afternoon meeting).  What kind of structure would allow good all-round communications without getting bogged down in an absurdly large bureaucracy?

Also familiar were the questions around the inclusion of religious and philosophical groups in the same discussions – this is an area where LBFN members have skills.

Both these concerns touch on recognition as well as representation – again, LBFN members have experience of this at local level, particularly when it comes to discussions about public policy with local government and public agencies.

Fascinating: I was interested to know *why* the EU wanted to maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with religious communities and philosophical and non-confessional organisations.  Several EU policy areas were mentioned, along with a desire to promote the peaceful co-existence of these communities in Europe, to protect religious freedom (as part of a more general concern for the protection of human rights and dignity) and a recognition that a good understanding of religion and belief needed to underpin the EU’s foreign policy and development aid.

But I was impressed that the first step that the EU Parliament’s President Jerzy Buzek and Vice-President László Tőkés have taken in sorting out *how* it is to be done has been to bring together many of the people who are likely to be involved – and ask them.  Bravo!

Members of the emerging European Network - Nicole, Catriona, Yolande, Katerina & Karim - at the European Parliament on 30th May (thanks to Katerina's Greek Orthodox friends - two priests - who took the photo).

The emerging European Religion & Belief Network, which LBFN is involved in shaping, could play a useful part by contributing the experience and expertise of practitioners within grass-roots multifaith and intercultural groups across the continent.  In order to do this effectively, members of the new network will need to know about each other and be in touch – exchange visits, online communications, meeting up from time to time.

LBFN, along with other members of the new network (a great bunch which includes a wide range of religious and philosophical traditions, including the UK’s All Faiths & None), has now been represented at four meetings with officials within the European institutions.

A gathering of the new network is likely to be held in Brussels in early December [now more likely to be May 2012] – let me know if you’re interested or have suggestions for this (the planning meeting will be towards the end of this month).  A meeting in London, bringing together those who are interested in the new network, is planned for June [now fixed for 28th November].

Europe: building trust between communities

At LBFN we have welcomed the possibility of stronger links with similar grass-roots groups across Europe.  Our Breakfast in Multifaith Europe during Inter Faith Week last year brought together several other groups with similar interests.

Last week an exploratory meeting involving pan-European groups took place in Brussels and was followed by a meeting at the European Commission, arranged by Alan Murray, Director of All Faiths and None.  LBFN’s Convener was happy to take part in both.  There was a positive response and there is a possibility of a conference later in the year, again in Brussels, bringing together intercultural groups (within the EU ‘religion & belief’ includes Humanist traditions) from across Europe.

// Brêakfåst in Mültifaitħ Eŭrőpe //

Coffee, der Kaffee, du café & il caffè awaits you at LBFN’s own contribution to Inter Faith Week 2010 at 8.30-10am on Tuesday 23rd November!

A chance to explore opportunities for intercultural learning across Europe between local multifaith groups and practitioners: come & share your local experiences and expertise.    We have limited space at 24 Greencoat Place, SW1P 1RD, so you’ll need to pre-register.

LBFN has been looking at the possibility of strengthening links with similar groups in other European cities for about a year now – this breakfast will pool our knowledge and sift ideas.

Leave a comment below or contact convener@lbfn.org for more information and to register.

Religious (in)tolerance in Europe

Minarets, wearing of crosses, niqabs – how are things changing in relation to religious expression here in London and across Europe?

The Faith & Public Policy Forum seminars are always good value.

Tuesday 16th November 5.30 – 7pm

Lorenzo Zucca, Lecturer in Law, King’s College London

The Betrayal of Tolerance in Europe: An exploration of EU policy & law in relation to religion

The Old Committee Room (3c), Strand Campus, King’s College London (just along from the chapel)

Full listing of Faith & Public Policy Forum events.