Vortrag von OKR'in Katrin Hatzinger im Rahmen des Panels "Human Rights and the future of Europe: the role of religious, philosophical and non-confessional organisations" beim Fundamental Rights Forum in Wien am 12. Oktober 2021

Distinguished Vice-President, dear Roberta,

dear fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen,


I feel very honoured to be part of this panel and I am happy to share with you some reflections on behalf of EKD, the Protestant Church in Germany. EKD is the umbrella organisation of the 20 lutheran, reformed and united regional churches in Germany representing around 20 million Protestant Christians.

Despite all need for hope and positive thinking I want at the beginning to stress again that the EU is facing a polycrisis which has significant human rights implications and threatens EU integration and cohesion

  • how to balance solidarity and responsibility in the field of asylum and migration preventing human rights violations i.e. at EU´s external borders,
  • how to assure that the rule of law is respected in the EU including the primacy of EU law (see latest judgment of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal),
  • how to regulate the impact of artificial intelligence on civil liberties and human dignity,
  • how to prevent a deepening of social inequalities in the aftermath of the pandemic inside and outside the EU,
  • how to achieve a socially just and fair transition to a green and sustainable economy and society,
  • how to ensure an EU trade policy that is responsible, human rights based and social-ecologically sustainable and last but not least
  • how to tackle polarization, hate-speech, racism, anti-Semitism and islamophobia?......

The Covid- 19 pandemic has highlighted how quickly all appeals to solidarity and togetherness can evaporate in case of a health crisis and it has underlined the fragility of European values as the initial impulse in many Member States was pure national egoism. As the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said yesterday: We must prevent that the health crisis evolves into a democratic crisis.

As Protestant Church in Germany, we see our common future in a united Europe and are striving for being a church together with others. This means very practically that we foster cooperation, exchange and solidarity with other religious and non-religious actors inside and outside the EU.

Let me share some very concrete examples: For EKD defending human rights is a genuine task of the church. EKD is therefore committed to human rights education. The initiative #free and equal supports churches and civil society in their work on the ground. It is raising awareness for human rights and their defence, i.e. through cultural events, workshops and publications.

With regard to the fundamental right to freedom of religion and belief EKD and the German Catholic Bishop´s conference regularly publish a common analysis on the situation of FORB worldwide.

When it comes to the legal framework for a fair and humane EU asylum and migration policy my colleagues and myself in the Brussels office monitor the debate around the so-called new pact on asylum and migration and feed in our proposals for a dignified EU migration and asylum policy with access to protection, working together with secular as well as other church actors.

We also try to draw public attention to the dire human rights situations at EU external borders, be it in Greece, at the creation-bosnian or right now at the border between Belarus and the EU.

Moreover, EKD founded the association „United4 rescue“ to support civilian search and rescue missions at sea, to save people from drowning and to draw attention to the failure of national governments to act.

As Brussels office we also advocate for a human centric and ethical approach to AI and call for a regulation taking a risk-based approach to a broad range of applications.

Together with civil society partners and our development organization Bread for the World we are advocating for an ambitious mandatory due diligence legislation to protect human and environmental rights along global supply chains on national but also on EU level.

EKD is in regular exchange and dialogue with Jewish and Muslim partners and together with the German Catholic Bishops´ conference part of a broad alliance (“Allianz für Weltoffenheit, Solidarität, Demokratie und Rechtsstaat - gegen Intoleranz, Menschenfeindlichkeit und Gewalt“) including trade unions, employers organisations, the sport sector as well as jewish and muslim organisations fostering cosmopolitanism, solidarity, democracy and the rule of law.

EKD and the protestant welfare and development organisations try also to give those a voice who tend to be forgotten in many political debates…the socially marginalized and the poor people in third countries outside the EU. The pandemic should not deepen poverty and social exclusion. Therefore, the Covax initiative working on equal global access to Covid vaccines should get more attention and more political support in our view.

Finally, we see climate change as a common challenge which requires the implementation of the Paris Agreement and economic and social transformation. Again, it is not enough to talk about the change but to act. We managed to reduce the net greenhouse gas emissions within our regional member churches (by 20%) by many practical measures.

With regard to our role on EU level, we are a critical but constructive partner in the process of EU legislation and policy making. We feel that the EU loses its credibility when the aforementioned fundamental rights implications are not adequately addressed, and EU values remain mainly rhetoric but not a reality. The EU has to lead by example but also the churches have to do their homework as many divergences experienced on EU level are mirrored in the church world, i.e. with regard to the tensions around the migration issue.

Here we draw on the longstanding bilateral church partnerships and our European ecumenical networks as CEC (Conference of European Churches) and CPCE (Community of Protestant Churches) to create fora of debate on those controversial issues and to seek common ground.

The EU motto of „united in diversity“ is deeply enshrined in our protestant DNA.  It was a long process of inner-protestant dialogue before theological divergences were overcome and lutheran and reformed churches in Europe could grant one another fellowship in word and sacrament. This experience convinces us that reconciled diversity can succeed if we focus on common interests, don´t refrain from searching for common ground and leave space for differences.

So, in my view the best way forward for the future of Europe and the protection of human rights, is to think outside the box, to seek for new partners and allies but most importantly to start with ourselves: to live up to our ethical foundations, simply to live what we preach - despite all failures and set-backs.