La COMECE est la Commission des Episcopats de la Communaute Europeenne, or as we say the [Catholic] Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, and comprises the Bishops delegated from the twenty-four Conferences in the EU. These do not always conform to national boundaries. For example, we are familiar with the All-Ireland, England and Wales, and Scotland Conferences. There is a single Conference for Scandinavia. The Conferences for Croatia and Switzerland have associate status, being outside the EU. There is a permanent Secretariat in Brussels.
There would be a degree of irony if the support of COMECE for the Lisbon Treaty resulted in them having to change their name, but it would not be the first time they have done this. The European Community will no longer exist when the Lisbon Treaty is fully ratified and the single identity and personality of the European Union is adopted. To be correct they will have to become COMEUE.
Their forerunner, from 1976 to 1980, was the European Catholic Pastoral Information Service who discussed the creation of a body to undertake liaison with the European Community. On the eve of the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 they resolved to establish COMECE which was launched on 3rd March 1980. Their objectives are to monitor and analyse the political process of the EU and to inform and raise awareness within the Church about EU policy and legislation. They are to maintain regular dialogue with the EU institutions and responded to consultations initiated by the European Commission. Perhaps the most important objective is to promote reflection on the challenges arising from European Unity, based on Catholic Social Teaching.
We fund COMECE indirectly through our weekly collections so it should be of some concern to us that they do not stray from their remit, which brings us back to their support for the Lisbon Treaty and the establishment of a particular form of government for the Continent. The First Catholic Social Days for Europe held in Gdansk (8th – 11th October 2009) certainly fell within their legitimate remit. It was also opportune as the Lisbon Treaty provides for a formal dialogue process with Churches and Religions. The Archbishop of Dublin in his key address to the first session of the Conference made the salient point, “it is time for Catholics to further develop their own European strategy”. The proposition was that this is best done together with other Christian traditions and Catholic Social Teaching was a good starting point.
So far so good, but there is a worry about political drift. At the Opening Ceremony of the Conference the President of COMECE [the Bishop of Rotterdam] recorded the relief of the Bishops that Ireland had voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in the previous week’s referendum. Following the EP election in June he made public his hope that dialogue between the Churches and the EU institutions would be deepened for the sake of human dignity and the common welfare. He also regretted the low voter turnout of 43% [the turnout has dropped at every EP election since 1979] saying, “Such a low turnout is all the more inexplicable as the EP will stand to gain additional influence and competences when the Lisbon Treaty comes into force. By intensifying the process of democratisation the EP can become a more powerful representative of its citizens. The low turnout indicates that a European Civil Society is still missing. Compared to the Single Market there has been too little focus on civil society. The European institutions, the national governments, the political parties and perhaps even the Churches should therefore ask themselves; Was our contribution big enough to raise the European conscience of our fellow citizens?”
He also commented that for sixty years European integration has been a unique process in the history of mankind and which today is more than ever important. Given the worldwide economic crisis, climate change and the food crisis there is in fact no alternative to a united Europe speaking with one voice and standing up for justice and peace on its own continent and in the world. He congratulated all the elected members of the European Parliament from the twenty-seven Member States and wished them every success and God’s blessing in fulfilling their mandates
That would be fine if the MEPs had been elected on the published manifestoes of their EP political group and they conformed to the Declaration – Building a better European home – published by COMECE prior to the EP election. None of the political parties in the UK campaigned on or even referred to their EP group’s manifesto. National issues were the order of the day and we are ignorant about the matters that our MEPs will vote on or instigate. In those circumstances MEPs can pursue their own personal agendas even when they run contrary to our understanding of basic God given human rights. Many MEPs have a pro-abortion and GAY agenda which undermines the right to life and traditional family values. In congratulating all MEPs the Bishop of Rotterdam was, perhaps inadvertently, congratulating some MEPs who should be condemned.
Likewise, stating that there is no alternative to a united Europe should not mean that the only option is a structure of a federal nature as will follow from the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. There is an alternative model with fully sovereign States working together by consensus. That might explain why the missing European Civil Society, as indicated by the low EP turnout, is apparent. Citizens in the Member States do not consider themselves to be citizens of a European State, no matter what it says on the front cover of their passports. The COMECE position was enunciated very clearly by the Bishop of Down and Connor, as Representative of the Irish Bishops Conference, when he addressed the Joint Committee on European Affairs of the Irish Parliament. This was widely reported in the Irish media because it undermined the No Campaigns. More details of that later.
The position of COMECE is fundamentally sound, as should be expected, and they are fully aware of the dangers that threaten a Europe founded on Christian principles. It is therefore difficult to understand why they are so enthusiastic for and supportive of the political structure that has been developed for the EU, which is not only undemocratic but also anti-democratic. The question they need to answer is Why? They also need to row-back from the drift in to the political stream.