Vortrag von OKR'in Katrin Hatzinger im Rahmen der Veranstaltung „Religious Communities and European integration“ am 15.11.2021 auf dem Campus des Collège d´Europe in Natolin, Polen

European integration and religious communities:
an ongoing dialogue

Reenergizing the European project –
challenges and chances for the churches


Distinguished Vice-Rector,

eminences, excellences,

ladies and Gentlemen,

dear audience,


Again, I feel proud and extremely honoured to be part of this second round of discussions. It feels good to be back on the Natolin campus.

For those of you who did not participate in last year´s edition allow me to briefly introduce our work in Brussels:

EKD is the umbrella for the 20 Lutheran, Reformed and United regional churches in Germany, representing around 20 million Protestant Christians. Since our Synod last week we have an all female leadership.

Since 1990, EKD has its own representation in Brussels. Our tasks as an liaison and advocacy office are manifold:

  • we monitor EU legislation with regard to the church´s  autonomy as enshrined in the German Constitution,
  • we do advocacy work on questions relating to peace, justice and integrity of the creation
  • we offer a political interface, bringing together church representatives and EU policy makers i.e. by hosting visitor groups from high level Bishop´s delegations to student groups, by organizing public debates (this year mostly online on for example due diligence legislation, churches and the Covid-19 pandemic or the conference on the future of Europe), prayer breakfasts etc.
  • we are an information hub regarding all possible questions of our member churches with regard to EU politics, and we offer as a quite unique feature a focal point for EU funding of church or diaconical projects

We cooperate on the one hand closely with our ecumenical partners (COMECE, CEC, German Catholic Bishop´s Conference, Caritas, JRS, CCME etc.) but also with secular ones like human rights organisations (UNHCR, Amnesty), trade unions, think tanks, Perm Reps etc.

The EKD office is, of course, also a partner in the formal dialogue with the European institutions according to art. 17 III TFEU, which is quite a unique and highly appreciated provision within the framework of the European Treaties.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how quickly all appeals to solidarity and togetherness, can evaporate in case of a severe (in this case: health) crisis and it has underlined the fragility of European values as the initial impulse in many Member States was to think and act purely national. So it is definitely true, the European spirit needs a “booster shot” – but in which way might the churches be able to contribute to reenergizing the European project? That is a more difficult question than it seems at first glance. I will get to that point later. Allow me to start on more general terms firstly.

In our Protestant understanding the vocation of the church is to work towards a society that is at peace with itself and its environment, which means social, just and ecologically sustainable, based on personal faith and/or ethical convictions. Being Protestant is never to be seen as an isolated feature, but as living consciously in relations, also aware of their wider context.

The European Union is such a context. It is our reality and our future.  The churches‘ contribution to EU integration seems therefore all the more important in times where the struggle for a common understanding of European values drives EU Member States apart and the basic foundations and achievements of the EU are put into question by some. Not for the first time, the EU is facing multiple internal and external challenges: be it with regard to the rule of law, economic recovery, the toxic debate about a common European asylum and migration system or the ways of implementing the common goal of climate neutrality by 2050, not to talk about geopolitics.

Churches can serve Europe and its institutions in different roles: as a sparring partner and critical counterpart in dialogue, as a provider of social services and an agent of social cohesion, but also as a multiplier of the European idea itself. With their parishes and welfare organisations they are deeply rooted in the whole of society from urban to rural areas and can bring in the perceptions, traditions and concerns of the people. With their ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, they aim at reconciliation and peaceful cohabitation of religions and cultures. Finally, Churches are also interested in securing their institutional structures according to historical tradition and its legal manifestations according to national culture, and therefore voice their concerns in case of possible conflicts between European harmonisation and national identity. Even though theirs is a very particular field of constitutional law, it stands pars pro toto for the important question of how to balance the two best in the complex European multilevel political and judicial system. To strike the right balance is key for the acceptance of integration in general.

As the 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 and exchange with other religious and non-religious actors inside and outside the EU.

EKD is a critical but constructive partner in the process of EU legislation and policy making. We feel that the EU loses its credibility when appeals to European values remain mainly rhetoric but aren’t put into practice. Therefore, we monitor, for example, current debates around the new pact on migration and asylum, the proposal for a regulatory framework on artificial intelligence,  the strategic compass for security and defence in the EU or the Green Deal to name a few.

Allow me to briefly highlight two concrete examples of our engagement:

Together with civil society partners and our development organisation 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.

Regarding the EU (as well as the national level), we are in favour of new legislation, as voluntary corporate responsibility measures to protect human and environmental rights have proven not to be sufficient.

We promote the idea of an EU directive taking the whole of the value chain into account. In our opinion an ambitious EU legislation would ensure legal certainty and a level playing field for companies in the EU, reduce compliance costs and could serve as a standard on the global level. Therefore, we are very much looking forward to the Commission proposal for a directive on sustainable corporate governance expected in early December.

With regard to the several legislative proposals enshrined in the new pact on asylum and migration we deplore that the focus is once again mainly on border protection, return and cooperation with third countries. Together with our ecumenical partners in Brussels we are advocating for unrestricted access to asylum in the EU, legal pathways and fair and efficient asylum procedures and well as decent reception conditions. We criticise that the proposed regulation on asylum and migration management (which is supposed to replace the so-called Dublin regulation) is maintaining the so-called “first entry criterion” putting the main responsibility for the asylum procedures on the countries at the EU´s external borders. We are skeptical about the idea of so-called asylum border procedures given the existing experiences in the hot spots on the Greek islands for example, and see the danger of even more detention in camps with inhumane conditions. The current human rights situation at the external borders of the EU, including the Polish-Belarusian border, concerns and worries us greatly. The EKD Synod (our church parliament, so to speak) has been very vocal last week in stating that pushbacks shall never be legitimised nor legalised in the EU, but that decent reception conditions and access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure are vital to uphold the EU´s credibility – and indeed Europe’s “soul”, to use a term introduced by former Commission President Jacques Delors.

Talking about credibility, I come to my final point: the challenges and chances for the churches. Not only is the EU sometimes struggling with living up to its values, also the churches are facing a credibility and a confidence crisis. In Germany, both churches, catholic and protestant, keep on shrinking. That is partly related to the ongoing process of secularisation and a significant demographic change, but it is also related to inflexible structures, a lack of charisma and last but not least the slow and often unconvincing handling of sexual abuse cases.

The EU has to lead by example, but also the churches have to regain confidence in order to be able to give orientation. Therefore, transparency, accountability, self-criticism and a clearer and better communicated vision for society are key for moving on. We have to believe and live what we preach. This means in practical terms for example not only to ask for strong political commitments to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 but to  reduce C0²-emissions in the churches in the areas of energy consumption, mobility and procurement. Our regional church in Berlin and Brandenburg, which also encompasses the coal mining area of the Lausitz, has as a first church passed a very technical ecclesiastical law aiming at carbon neutrality by 2050. Such action is urgently needed, not waiting for state regulation alone.

Another challenge many working in the EU context can probably subscribe to is, as I would call it, the “Europe fatigue” which has in my observation even worsened throughout the pandemic as cross-border exchange was heavily impacted. One can observe it on national level and logically also in the church world as the churches are to a farer or lesser extent embedded in their societies. Within EKD for example, I often notice a kind of friendly indifference with regard to current EU affairs as EU politics seem far away, abstract and often too complex. It might, I admit, also play a role that the EU still has not overcome its beginnings as an economic community, as a common market. President Jacques Delors strived very hard to move Europe into the direction of a Europe of values. Even though many EU politicians use that rhetoric the EU remains quite technocratic in the eyes of many people on the ground, not least in the churches.

However, in order to reenergize the European project the churches should again see the chances which are to be found in dealing with EU matters and widen their perspective. It is a pity that churches and religious organisations do not play a more prominent role in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe and in general that the Conference stays under the radar of public attention. Therefore, it is not really able to reach out to the EU sceptics and critics. Moreover, it still remains unclear what the concrete outcome is supposed to be. Council and Parliament are not on the same page there. Still, churches and church affiliated organisations set up their own series of events and conferences, bringing in their expectations and perspectives, especially those of young Christians. The Conference could be a chance to feed in the Church´s perspective in the debate and to involve and interact with church members beyond borders.

Besides, in a time when both denominations in Germany loose members (and financial means), there are many lessons learnt from the EU context, for example: how to shape new alliances, form new types of cooperation and learn from each other´s experience as a minority or a majority church or as a church from Eastern or Western Europe. With the focal point on EU funding and project cooperation in our Brussels office we try to foster new partnerships for example between local parishes and municipalities in rural areas allowing for innovative ways to support rural development.

Moreover, many divisions and tensions experienced on EU level are mirrored in the church world, i.e. with regard to the conflicting views around the migration issue.

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

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

Let me conclude: A mix of critical self-reflection, humbleness and awareness of one´s own deficiencies combined with a willingness to rebuild confidence and embrace the chances lying in European cooperation and the idea of unity in diversity can be the ingredients for a “booster shot” to reenergize the European project. And this medicine should not only be prescribed to the churches but in my opinion also the EU Members States.

I am very much looking forward to your reactions, comments and questions.

Thank you for your attention.