Article 17 of the EU Treaty stipulates that “the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations”.  The former president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, would hold in Brussels, once a year in early summer, a meeting with representatives of Churches and dogmas. And he would personally preside over these meetings.

The meetings were very useful because they brought together religious figures representing different beliefs and cultures. This is something very much needed today given the ongoing clashes that have a religious undercurrent.

With the new Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker, however, the annual meetings have been handed to Vice-President Frans Timmermans. As the prevailing Church of the European Union is the Roman Catholic Church, the matter should have remained under the president, as was the case during the Barroso years.

Last June, under Frans Timmermans, the regular meeting took place. It was a sort of “meet and greet” gathering as it was the first meeting held under the Juncker Commission.

A month ago, under an initiative by Timmermans, an extraordinary non-registered (non-recorded in the Agenda of the Vice-President) meeting was called. During this meeting, the idea to hold a religious conference in Brussels was tabled. The proposal aimed at bringing together the most important religious leaders, including Papa Francesco, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople and others, including few Sheikh ul Islam (i.e. of Turkey and Egypt).

This proposal, however, was rejected before the meeting ended, as no Church leader such as the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch would sit at the same table with any Sheikh ul Islam, as they do not represent Islam in its totality, but only the Muslims of one specific country.

A response came from the two Christian leaders last week. Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, on informal initiative of the former, have decided to meet on the Greek island of Lesbos in an informal humanitarian visit, next weekend.

Participants at the non-registered meeting under Vice-President Frans Timmermans, included, among others, Katharina von Schnurbein (European Commission), Rev. Fr. Patrick H. Daly (Secretary General of the Bishops Conference of the EU) and Rev. Heikki Huttunen (Secretary General of Conference of European Churches).