Address by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, at the annual reception of the Diakonischen Werkes of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)
Dear Diakonie President, Pfarrer Kottnik,
Dear Minister von der Leyen,
Reverends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here with you in Berlin today in the Heilig Kreuz Kirche on the occasion of the annual reception of the 'Diakonisches Werk' of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
Thank you to Pfarrer Kottnik, your President, for giving me this opportunity to speak to such an important gathering. As you may be aware, I am a member of an Evangelical Church myself, the Augsburg Congregation of Poland, so it is a special pleasure to gather together in this house of prayer with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I believe that the designation of this year as the European Year for combating poverty and social exclusion, is very timely.
It comes as we all try to come to grips with the worst economic crisis since the Great crash of 1929. But also, where churches are concerned, it comes one month after the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty.
Last week in Brussels I had the pleasure to receive in my office Prälat Felmberg who, as you know, represents the EKD in relations with the German Federal Government, as well as with the institutions of the European Union.
During our discussion, we talked about a very important innovation contained in the Lisbon Treaty which is of interest, not only to the EKD, but to all churches and religious communities in our European societies.
Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reads as follows:
"The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.
It goes on to say that:
"Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations."
I think it is wonderful that the "specific contribution" of churches to building our common European home is given proper legal recognition. Organised religions, as well as faith-based NGOs have an important contribution to make in the European public space.
If we are to revitalise, understand and live in the European Community we are building, two things are also essential: solidarity and social cohesion. It is obvious that churches are especially well-placed to contribute to these aims. So the EU needs the churches and values the role they play.
Solidarity - or "Solidarność" in Polish - is at the very heart of Christian values. My own experience in Polish Solidarność was with a movement working to bring about social justice and true freedom based on human dignity.
Solidarity, with a small "s", is directed towards recognising the dignity of the poor and marginalized as an integral element of the Gospel and the necessity for participation in the common good.
The promise of a better life for all, starting with the most vulnerable, must be at the heart of the European political project. Combating poverty is not only a question of generosity. It is not only an ethical challenge. It is in the interest of our societies.
In EU efforts to combat social exclusion, at least 10 million people receive support from the European Social Fund every year. The plan for food aid for the poorest people has a budget of €500 million Euros this year 2010, which will be used to help at least 13 million people.
My dear Friends,
The action plan of the EU for the European Year for combating poverty and social exclusion foresees many events, some of which will take place in the Member States - where hundreds of projects have already been set up - and others in Brussels.
At the European level, we will have the first "European Week against Poverty and Exclusion" in May 2010, with awareness-raising activities aimed at bringing the issue of poverty to European TV and radio stations.
The second "European Week against Poverty and Exclusion" will be in October 2010. There will be a round table on poverty and an International Day against Poverty with activities focusing on EU financing and the relationship between financing and training.
Finally, the European Year will be closed with a conference in Brussels on 17 December and a political declaration supported by the EU Institutions and the Heads of State and Government of the Member States.
This European Year also seeks to promote local solidarity because not everything is a question of social benefits or the responsibility of professionals. Nothing can replace helping one another, kindness, understanding and generosity, or as the Gospel puts it: "Love for your neighbour".
Public solidarity and private solidarity are complementary. This is the main condition for ensuring that poverty is not accompanied by exclusion. This is why organisations like Diakonie work closely with local, state and federal authorities. And, as I mentioned, the European-level authorities have an important role to play too.
The combat against poverty and social exclusion is a work of partnership on all levels. I would like to pay tribute to all the people who on a daily basis, either as part of their jobs or volunteer work, help the poorest, the most vulnerable in our societies.
It is possible to imagine a better Europe for all; and this is the awareness that the European Year aims to create. The tremendous work carried out by the Diakonisches Werk der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland is a shining example of what can be achieved by working in a true spirit of Christian solidarity.
Your activity crosses borders, and once it crossed an iron curtain. In the 1980s when Polish children not only did not have sweets and oranges, but were lacking sugar, cheese, butter and flour, it was from your Diakonie that trucks filled with aid packages came to us. To this day I remember the taste of German orange coloured cheese!
To fight for freedom on an empty stomach is difficult. Thanks to you, Solidarity was not hungry!
In the name of all those you have helped over the past years, in Europe and elsewhere, thank you.