Give this big question some thought: Which direction should Europe take in the next decade?
“The future of Europe is intrinsically linked to the future of the global community,” stated the Baha’i International Community (BIC) Brussels Office in a meeting at the European Parliament on 27 June.
The high level dialogue brought together policy makers and faith leaders to discuss the direction Europe should take in the coming decade.
The meeting at the European Parliament, and a second held on 7 July at the European Commission, came on the heels of the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a major historical milestone in the formation of the EU. A new publication—the “White Paper”—was prepared by the European Commission for that historic occasion and has set in motion a series of dialogues on the future of Europe.
In her comments at the European Parliament event, BIC representative Rachel Bayani highlighted the critical need today to recognize the interconnectedness of the global community:
“Our policies cannot only be concerned with creating increased prosperity for our continent alone,” she stated. “Solutions that consider the well-being of one part of the world without adequately considering others are proving inadequate. The advantage of the part is best reached by the advantage of the whole.”
At the European Commission meeting, the BIC expanded on this idea, using a poignant example—forced migration.
“The movement of populations into Europe, especially as a result of global inequality, has demonstrated that we cannot isolate one part of the world from the issues affecting humanity in another,” said Ms. Bayani.
To build consensus about Europe’s path forward will require a robust conversation among the diverse populations on the continent, argued Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans. He commented that “across Europe, we feel extremely comfortable with the company of people who are like us and that we seek dialogue with those with whom we already agree. But the only way forward for a society as diverse as Europe’s is to come to a common understanding of the values we share.”
Responding to his comments, Ms. Bayani pointed to the presence of both faith and secular organizations as an example of the kind of dialogue between different worldviews that would be needed to overcome fragmentation and build mutual understanding.
Reflecting on the meetings afterward, the BIC noted a challenge facing Europe today: regardless of the different worldviews held by its citizens, Europe will have to fundamentally re-examine its relationship to and understanding of religion:
Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books. Briefly, it is demonstrable that in this life, both outwardly and inwardly the mightiest of structures, the most solidly established, the most enduring, standing guard over the world, assuring both the spiritual and the material perfections of mankind, and protecting the happiness and the civilization of society—is religion. …
It is certain that the greatest of instrumentalities for achieving the advancement and the glory of man, the supreme agency for the enlightenment and the redemption of the world, is love and fellowship and unity among all the members of the human race. Nothing can be effected in the world, not even conceivably, without unity and agreement, and the perfect means for engendering fellowship and union is true religion. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 71-73.
The subject of religion has become more prevalent in Europe’s public discourse recently. While for many years, an assumption prevailed that religion would become less important as the forces of modernity advanced; the experience of the past decades has shown this not to be the case.
“A question for Europe, then,” stated the BIC, “is how to find a model of public discourse in which religion can play a constructive part in shaping society.”