Pre-elections statement of the Irish Episcopal Conference
The forthcoming elections provide the opportunity to elect representatives to the European Parliament, which is the House of the people of Europe, therefore we encourage all voters to exercise their democratic franchise based on an informed conscience. We make a special plea to first time voters to ensure that their voices are heard in the important policy decisions before the European Union. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), published last November, Pope Francis highlights the need for a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors, and a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society (102). The forthcoming elections provide an important opportunity to demonstrate that Christian commitment.
The goal of European integration has not yet been fully realised. There is more work to be done to realise social cohesion and a strong identification of citizens with the institutions that represent us at European level. These elections offer an important opportunity to address these challenges.
As citizens of the European Union we have a role to play in shaping its future. A crucial starting point is to exercise the democratic right to choose our MEP. In electing a new European Parliament, we will influence the course of events as they happen inside and outside of Europe over the life of the next parliament. The European Union model of governance, founded on the recognition of the inter-dependence of all peoples, encourages members to leave behind self-centred nationalism and pool our sovereignty in the interests of the common good. In a similar vein, Pope Francis highlights the need to move away from an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality (EG, 208). An effective EU offers the structures to support such an approach at the level of governance. Indeed, the Christian vision of the dignity of the human person is one in which the European Union finds its values reflected and supported.
At this time of elections it is important to acknowledge that political leadership is a vital service to society. As Christians we are called to articulate the fundamental values of human life which can then find expression in political activity (EG, 241). It follows then that we all have a responsibility to support our elected representatives by actively engaging in the political life of our society.
In examining the policy issues before us in this election, we need to look at the impact of European policy on the pressing issues of youth employment and unemployment, social protection, income and working conditions, all of which have a major impact on family life. European economic and social policy needs to be an authentic reflection of our values: Pope Francis has stated that “[t]he dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times, however, they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development” (EG, 203).
European Union social and economic policy needs to ensure that growth is balanced with environmental sustainability to ensure fair distribution of the earth's resources. The European Union’s external relations with developing nations do not yet live up to our commitments to fairness, equality and social justice. The plight of those migrants who have lost their lives in recent months while attempting perilous journeys to Europe by sea is a stark reminder of the extremes of inequality we continue to tolerate in our world.
We need to ask ourselves whether our current foreign policy reflects the founding vision of those committed to the European project, a vision of peace and reconciliation founded on solidarity and mutual respect. The process of European integration has been an important achievement in peace-building and conflict resolution. The principles that guided this process need to be applied to all aspects of European Union foreign policy. The current crisis in Ukraine is a prominent example of a situation where this leadership is urgently required.
The timing of these elections - bringing together the local and the European - reminds us that the difficulties we face in Ireland are being experienced in other European nations. Consequently, the next legislature will have a particular mandate to address these issues with policies that foster solidarity within Europe and beyond.
The scheduling of these elections side by side also reminds us that the European project will only be as strong as the democratic culture of the different national communities contained within it. In an increasingly globalised world, we need this European project to work. If it is to serve our needs, we need to be ready to play our part.