Frans Timmermans’ intervention during the Inter-religious Dialogue on 24 March 2015

The First Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights, Frans Timmermans participated to the „Inter-religious Dialogue” event which took place in the European Parliament on 24 March 2015.

Here is his intervention in its entirety:

“That was a very powerful speech (referring to the intervention of Mr. Schulz, the President of the European Parliament), I don’t know what we might add to what you already said. Just to underscore what Martin Schulz has just said. I profoundly believe in his message. I also profoundly believe in the fact that we face arguably the biggest challenge to European society since the end of the Second World War.

It is an element of human nature and especially an element in European history that whenever we are in trouble we go and look for someone to blame and traditionally we start with the Jews. You would have thought, 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz that we would have lost that part of our tradition, but apparently we haven’t.

I think if religions have one thing in common with all that diversity is that they don’t deny human nature, they understand human nature and they say that basing your actions on values, whether they are inspired by God or not, is to control those parts of human nature that go against your values.

And hating the other, for being different, goes against all shared values, of all religions.

And I believe we, in Europe, have lost sometimes the understanding of what it is to be religious because of a sector society where sometimes, when I used to talk to my students in the university you get the impression that religion is a choice like fashion or other choices you make simply because of a taste you have at a certain period of your life which is the case for some people, but which is not the case for many many millions more.

The lack of understanding of each other’s religious beliefs and the way religion place a role in your life is one of the problems we face.

This combined with the fact, I believe, that we have learned to speak better and to stand up for what we think and to stand up for what we believe and to speak better, but we’ve not learned to listen better.

I think very often what was presented as a dialogue, is a monologue and people listen to what they have to say themselves but they don’t listen to what the other has to say. I think this is becoming part of the European culture. <What I have to say is so important that you have to listen to me but it is not important for me to listen to you.> I think if one thing has been helpful in creating tolerance, and tolerance is not indifference, ladies and gentlemen, we have confused tolerance with indifference. Tolerance is also the taste for a good disagreement.

A dialogue doesn’t need to lead to agreeing on everything. Disagreeing on something can be a wonderful part of a dialogue and combining disagreement with respect. And I believe dialogue is essential to any civil society that has to deal with diversity such as ours. Because the phenomenon Martin was describing before is linked with dehumanization.

You can kill another person once you have taken her/his humanity away.

You start by taking a person’s humanity away if you disregard her views or close your mind to somebody else’s views.

That’s why Albert Camus said that “what distinguishes man from animals is the capacity of man to look at the world through somebody else’s eyes”.

Our dialogue, our interreligious dialogue should be a way of rediscovering the beauty of looking at the world through somebody else’s eyes.

Because it is the best way to discover who you are, yourself, in my view.

The commission will make a serious effort to take this dialogue to a higher level than just going through the motions which sometimes perhaps in the past was part of this. Because it is my profound believe, that if European society does not rediscover the beauty of dialogue, we are heading for more trouble in other areas because the process of dehumanization which is part and puzzle of every, every society based on radical politics or based on a totalitarian system which gives you the right to eliminate from society anyone who doesn’t agree with your views. This process starts when there is no dialogue.

And one of the few ways we have to create the form of immunity against that process, is to take dialogue seriously and to see where we can agree and to also discuss things where we disagree.

Jean Claude Junker (the president of the European Commision) and I had a very interesting debate with a roman-catholic bishop last week and for me personally, one of the most interesting parts of the debate was when we disagreed on something. Because if you agree on things, you know, dialogue can be over quite soon, but once you start disagreeing, start exploring each other’s points of view with respect for those points of view is when you get a real dialogue going.

Our house is your house, we are preparing the interreligious dialogue for the 16th of June, I know that the European Parliament will be well represented and I hope also that president Schulz will find the time to attend the meeting if he has a possibility but all of us will participate and my offer to you is: give us elements upon which we can built, to not just have a dialogue but to take concrete measures.

Because what happens today in European society, that minority start feeling insecure about whether do they have a future in Europe, that Jewish friends of mine are saying they like your efforts but they are not sure this is the place for me, that Muslim friend of mine say: “yes, I hear you always talk about anti-Semitism and I know you feel passionately about anti-Semitism but do you know that my sister does not want to wear a head scarf anymore when she goes to school because she is being abused for wearing a head scarf? Do you know that, my friend?” I said: “thank you for telling me because this is something we need to know.”

So please help us prevent that this process that in ongoing in Europe, where minority is pushed against minority, where hatred is being stimulated by the fact that the other should not belong, or the other is the cause of one’s misfortune or unhappiness.

Please help us come to that, because I believe religions have a pivotal role to play in that process and once again, our house is your house. Thank you very much.”