On Friday 6 January, the Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Joseph Muscat, and other Maltese Government ministers met with representatives of Europe’s Christian Churches at the start of the six-month Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The meeting was convened to discuss the priorities of the Maltese Presidency including migration, neighbourhood policy, and social inclusion.
The meeting took place under Article 17 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (Lisbon Treaty) which obliges the EU to hold an open, transparent, and regular dialogue with churches and religious communities. Such consultations with the churches on the Presidency priorities typically take place at the start of each six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. Malta’s period at the helm of the 28 EU Member States began on 1 January and runs until 30 June 2017.
Issues relating to migration and the reception of refugees in Europe dominated the hour-long meeting. Both government and church representatives expressed the need to reframe this discourse, including speaking of the benefits of migration for European societies and emphasising opportunities to welcome those in need of safety in Europe. The churches also reiterated their call for improved safe and legal pathways to Europe, the central importance of family unity and reunification, and the work churches do in local contexts in providing transformative encounters with refugees.
The church delegation was put together by COMECE (representing the Catholic Church) and CEC (representing Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and Reform churches). They urged the Maltese Government to ensure that EU responses to migration and the reception of refugees take into account the root causes of the displacement of people, including ecological crises. The church representatives expressed the view to the EU leadership that European Union policies should be coherent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Representatives of the Government of Malta:
- The Hon. Dr Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister
- The Hon. Mr Louis Grech, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Affairs
- The Hon. Dr George Vella, Minister for Foreign Affairs
- The Hon. Dr Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for EU Presidency and EU Funds
Representatives of COMECE and CEC:
- His Grace Mgr. Charles J. Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta and member of COMECE
- His Lordship Mgr. Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo
- Right Reverend Dr Robert Innes, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Church of England
- Mgr Joseph Galea Curmi, Vicar General
- Rev. Prof. Emanuel Agius, Dean, Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta
- Ms Doris Peschke, General Secretary, Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe
- Br Olivier Poquillon, OP, General Secretary of the Commission Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union
- Ms Erin Green, Communication Coordinator, Conference of European Churches