Can the EU promote ethical values in the economic crisis?

May 27, 2009

EU Parliament President Poettering and EU Commission President Barroso hold a news conference with religious leaders in BrusselsControversy overshadowed events this month when European Union officials invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from 13 member states and Russia to a meeting on economic governance.  Most of the Jewish leaders invited refused to attend, saying they considered some of the Muslim organisations taking part to be radical and anti-Semitic. The Universal Society of Hinduism issued a statement complaining it had not been invited and declaring: “It was clearly an insult.”

(Photo: European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering (2nd L), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (C) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (2nd R) address media in Brussels 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

A spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who initiated the annual gathering with religious leaders five years ago, said the reason no Hindu representatives were invited was largely to keep the meeting focused. “This meeting also has to be sort of conclusive and lead to real debate — it’s not that we can invite 100 or 1,000 persons to have a huge conference on these issues,” the spokesman said.

The 20 high-level participants in the end included four representatives of Islam, a single Jewish organisation which did not join the boycott, and 13 Christian groups.

EC President Barroso speaks during a joint news conference with religious leaders at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels The controversy deflected attention from the particularly timely subject of ethical values and the global economic crisis. ‘Our society is bearing the full brunt of the consequences of the turbulence that has affected our financial system in the last few months, and the resulting economic crisis; these affect not only markets and investors, but also all of our fellow citizens on a daily basis,” Barroso said.

“In fact, as the crisis progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that the time has come to reconcile economic governance with the fundamental ethical values on which the European project has been based for the last 50 years.”

Participants at the meeting encouraged the EU in its efforts to combat the economic crisis but also set out some demands.

“They also underlined the need to ensure that social justice remains at the forefront of policy making and in a moment when unemployment and poverty keep rising to very worrying levels, our societies should be able to act together in developing and implementing concrete measures to contain the effects of the crisis on citizens,” the European Commission said.

They also agreed on the need to revive “the sense of solidarity among Europeans of all creeds and convictions and inspiring more ethics in the behaviour of financial and economic operators.”

Working out how all this is to be done could be one of the EU’s next headaches. Do you think the EU can promote ethical values and solidarity in Europe?

2 comments

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Why would the Jews go along with this? After centuries of being hounded on European soil, why would they want to partner with the European Union on economic governance? As for the (non-Catholic) “Christians” who went along with this, they’re in for a big surprise.

Avodah (Hebrew)
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2890816/av odah_hebrew/

Yerushaláyim (Hebrew)
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2806525/ye rushal_yim_hebrew/

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While it is a laudable step in the right direction, more is probably gleaned from who wasn’t in attendance than what was actually decided upon. It is a shame that attention was detracted from dealing with the economic crisis. But the controversy also highlights that inter-group relations is another important topic, one that will continue to surface in more and less subtle ways. We cannot expect societies to work together motivated by shared ethical values if we cannot even get them into the same room. Real, broad impact begins with the invitation list and the RSVP.