Like most people who attended the Bruges Group conference on the first weekend in November 2002 I was amazed and somewhat shocked to hear about a little known Group called Soul or Souls for Europe. I do however remember Dr Richard North's (Director of Research for the United Kingdom Independence Party) joke where he said they “are Souls for Europe".
Not only was the pro-EU lobby finding a way of taking money from taxation through various "projects" and cross sponsoring schemes. It seems that they were even having a proportion of the money that goes on to the Church collection plate through similar clandestine methods.
So what is the truth about the organisation Souls for Europe and who is behind it?
I am an active member of the Church of England and I serve on my local Deanery Synod, Parochial Church Council (PCC) and District Church Council (DCC) and I've never heard of such a body. Mind you chances are it would not be impossible for a piece of paper publicising some event or another to have found its way straight to the bin. As is all too often Church meetings these days where members are finding themselves bombarded with all manor of missives being placed on their chairs for them to study or ignore.
So, from what I understand from my research and that of others is that the Soul for Europe programme, or as it should be correctly titled the "A Soul for Europe: Ethics and Spirituality a programme of the European Union" was initiated in 1994 to, "Encourage the religious communities to present projects meetings, seminars social activities etc., meant to contribute to the recognition and understanding of the ethical and spiritual dimension of European unification and Politics."
It reports to the Group of Policy Advisors (GOPA) which was previously called the Forward Studies Unit. My understanding is that the GOPA is attached to the office of the President of the European Commission. In addition "Souls for Europe" was able to issue grants of taxpayers money via the European Commission to various groups or projects which met certain criteria. One of the more interesting clauses, which raised an eyebrow, is that of "Accept a dialogue that must be continued in line with European integration and explicitly promote the integration of Europe."
Later I was to discover that the deadline for applications for grants from the Souls for Europe campaign was on 14th May 1997. So who could be behind such a programme and are they still active now and what of the groups that did receive funding? Although there were six members of the Co-ordinating committee one of the six turned out to be the Conference of European Churches of whom I had heard and who's activities had crossed my path before.
The Conference of European Churches (CEC)
The CEC, which has three offices based in Geneva, Brussels and Strasbourg is a fellowship of 126 Orthodox, Protestant (including the C of E, Methodist & Salvation Army, to name but a few) and Old Catholic Churches. It works in a close partnership with the Roman Catholic Council of European Bishops' Conferences.
The current President of the CEC is H.E. Metropolitan Jeremie Caligiotgis, the General Secretary is Rev. Dr. Keith Clements. Although it is interesting to note the Rt Rev Dr. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London serves as one of the 7 Deputy Vice-Presidents.
On the 1st January 1999 the Church and Society Commission of the CEC was formed by a merger of the CEC's work on Church and society and the European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society. The 2 main tasks of the Church and Society Commission are:
"To help churches study church and society questions from a theological and social ethical perspective, especially those with a European dimension."
"To represent member churches of CEC in their relations with political institutions working in Europe."
It is the Church and Society Commission that provides the secretariat for the A soul for Europe programme.
Since September 2002 the Church and Society Commission of the CEC has had its own director, the Rev Rüdiger Noll aged 44. He is based in Brussels and is a pastor from the Evangelical Church in Germany, and has held various staff posts on the CEC since 1990.
Contained within the Commission are a number of working groups on subjects such as the working group on Economic, Environmental and Social issues. This working group then sub divides into 3 sub groups: one looking at climate change, transport and energy the second sub group looking at social issues and the third looking at Economies in transition.
Other working groups include one on European Community legislation, bioethics, human rights and religious freedoms and there is even one on European Integration. Just as a matter of interest the remit for the group on European Integration is "Helping the churches to reflect on the process of European integration and to respond to questions linked with the question of the enlargement of the European Union, the reform of the Union institutions and the future relationships between European countries inside and outside the Union.
But it is the question of how the CEC is representing me as an Anglican Euro-realist that I wish to turn to next and I would argue that other like-minded Christians might find this alarming.
In it's publication CEC monitor published in September 2002 the lead story is that Churches should be a dialogue of partners with specific contributions to the development of European policy and further calls upon European institutions to establish "an appropriate system of consultation with them." Apparently the proposal was unanimously accepted during the meeting of the central council meeting of the CEC. All well and good but I would contest before reaching such a decision it should of at least made known its views to ordinary church members some of whom may think that the Church in no way should be part of a European establishment.
I would contest as an Anglican that having an established church at a national level is enough. Whereas others of a more nonconformist tradition would argue that the mere idea of a church with any formal ties to any organisation such as the EU is a complete anathema. Yet as far as I'm aware no reference to the decision was ever made to the ordinary Church member of any denomination to gauge what his/her input would be.
So who are the organisations that received funding from the A Soul for Europe programme and who have at least by implication committed their organisations to: "Encourage the religious communities to present projects meetings, seminars social activities etc., meant to contribute to the recognition and understanding of the ethical and spiritual dimension of European unification and Politics."
Well I have decided to take a brief look at couple of them.
The World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP)
"The (WCRP) is the largest International Coalition of representatives from the Worlds great religions who are dedicated to achieving Peace."
This a body that received some funding from Souls of Europe for an interfaith youth project that it was started at the end of 1997 in the UK. You may have never heard of this project well all I can say is that until I began doing some research for this article neither had I.
However, before this project came into being there were brain-storming meetings the first being held at Luton University and it is interesting to note that the summary of the meeting points out the deadline of applications for grants from Souls for Europe.
In addition, their German branch also receives funding directly from the EU. This is acknowledged on their web site www.wcrp.org. Although in fairness I should point out the UK branch receives no direct funding from the EU.
Christianity and The Future of Europe (C.A.F.E)
From research based on articles in the English Churchman and from information directly from a Cambridge based organisation that they have received money from A Soul for Europe.
The C.A.F.E group, who's passed Presidents include the Rt Revd the Bishop of Ely, have freely acknowledged this funding in its report and hence adhere to the programmes criteria.
I call upon people whom like myself serve on PPC or Church Councils, those that are area or diocesan synod representatives to start asking some questions about their own Church organisations and Church to find out what EU projects and programmes have been joined in the name of their Churches. I know I will.