The following speeches and addresses were delivered from speakers in the 1st Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom which was held in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium in November 2010.

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Welcoming Remarks of Rodi Kratsa Tsagaropoulou

Vice President Of The European Parliament

WELCOMING REMARKS / EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
NOVEMBER 16, 2010

Your Eminencies,
Your Graces,
Your Excellencies, Ministers and Governmental representatives,
Esteemed Archons of Ecumenical Patriarch,
Distinguished Professors and Scholars,
Presidents,
Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very pleased to welcome you in Brussels in our house in the European Parliament. I would also like to thank the organizers for their kind invitation to attend the opening of this conference. I sincerely regret that my Vice Presidency obligations in London have not allowed me to share my thoughts with you in person as I had planned.

The topic of this event, "religious freedom: turkey's bridge to the European Union", helps bring out the significance of european values and challenges and especially of religious tolerance and intercultural dialogue and human rights, concepts at the core of european integration, european enlargement and of peace and stability in the world.

The EU has been a community of cultures and values built on the principle of respect of human rights and the diversity of its people and cultures ever since its establishment 50 years ago. As the founding father Jean Monnet stated in his memoirs «Nous ne coalisons pas des Etats, nous unissons des hommes.» (We are not joining states together, we are uniting people). Intercultural dialogue will always retain its importance for the European Project. This idea lies behind the motto of the EU "United in Diversity".

The growing cultural and religious diversity of our societies, as a result of migratory movements to Europe, the effects of globalisation and the growing exchanges of Europe with the rest of the world have resulted in more frequent and deeper interactions between cultures, languages, ethnic groups and religions and in different perceptions.

In that context the European Union has demonstrated the importance it attaches to freedom and dignity, more particularly, its firm commitment to defend but also define, within this framework, freedom of religion and belief so much internally as well as in its external action.
Cultural diversity, European, national and regional identity, religious tolerance, human rights, gender equality are interlinked concepts and values in our unique Europe. Intercultural and interreligious dialogue are essential tools in bringing these concepts together and in forging closer links among people living in Europe and with people beyond our borders.

However, the respect of these values seem to be non-negotiable if the European Union wants toremain faithful to the official and legal obligations and the core of inalienable human rights provided for in the European treaties and legislation, applicable to all European citizens and immigrants present on European soil.

This European stance is supported by the Council of Europe White Paper mentioned above, which states as one of the conditions of intercultural dialogue that "ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic affiliations or traditions cannot be invoked to prevent individuals from exercising their human rights or from responsible participating in society...Religious practice is part of contemporary human life and it therefore cannot and should not be outside the sphere of interest of public authorities…".

The harmony of these concepts is a condition sine qua non to achieve freedom, prosperity and stability in Europe and in the whole world.

It is of a great significance that today's conference focuses on Turkey, a candidate country, which must build its european future on these principles, in order to efficiently implement and guarantee and promote their respect internally and externally.

Moreover, the European Parliament constitutes the most appropriate place for such a discussion, on one hand for the defence of human rights, integrity, equality, freedom and dignity and on the other hand, in view of establishing a constant dialogue and a satisfactory cooperation with Turkey.

With these words, I thank you very much for your kind attention and wish you the best of success for this important and fundamental conference!