Henk Baars is a member of EN-RE's Dutch member group Marienburg Vereniging

Strasbourg 28 October-31 October 2019 Council of Europe

We're staying at the Oblates of Maria Immaculata. Looks like a seventies building, but it's a bit worn out and they are going to build something new in their backyard and demolish this building. In the course of the week I do get the impression that this is the right decision. The building is populated by 80 plus Oblates and is no longer well maintained. Some of them speak English and one of them looks a lot like the present pope. He knows that and we laugh about it regularly. But we don't have to kneel before him yet. The fathers live very simply, their interior design is that of extremely austere celibates. Some of them still volunteer in the city, but the health of some of them is very fragile. There are also some African priests who study theology in Strasbourg. We, Hugo Castelli and I, sleep in rooms at the top of the building. We have a whole floor to ourselves.

Hugo is the Spanish co-representative of the INGO that we represent, the European Network Church on the Move, EN-RE. A critical Catholic network of which the Marienburg Association has been a member for many years. We obtained the NGO status associated with the Council of Europe. Yet there are also members of Andante who

stay in an umbrella organisation of European Catholic women's organisations. They are there with people from the Netherlands, Germany and England. I will interview one of them for the MV magazine. They are still closely following the results of the Amazon Synod; we Dutch people have more or less lost that interest. It has all taken too long and the belief in real changes has disappeared. But not when it comes to the many social issues that pass at INGO. Because that's what we're in Strasbourg for and the EN-RE was founded for. A Catholic network that focuses on social issues.

Here we are at the large meeting of almost 350 NGOs from all over Europe that advise the INGO Conference of the  Council of Europe and try to give a voice to that gigantic network of generally voluntary organisations that are all involved in a certain way in human rights, democratic relations, gender issues, abuse of power and corruption. If you want, you can really exert influence, but this first time I still feel like doing an internship in this whole area. I notice that Hugo Castelli (Spain) and before that Francois Becker (France) have done a lot in the numerous working groups that exist. I try to experience as much as possible, but in hindsight I still don't have everything in mind. As everywhere, things are always done by people you get to know. Who is who is very important. I made business cards separately for the occasion and I almost lost them all afterwards. But what are and were the highlights? Much has been said about a major structural change, in which the meeting will have a little more influence on the European Council¹. But then you have to be a little more inquisitive, and that is not yet me.

I am taking you on a sort of bird's-eye view. What is strong is the contribution of the working group on gender equality. They take action at every meeting because the situation is far from uniform in all areas. A subject such as prostitution divides the company again, because not everyone uses the same definition regarding, for example, trafficking in women. But gender is not just about women. Dutchman Simon Matthijsen is chairman of the important Human Rights Commission. At this large meeting, almost everyone is on the edge of his or her seat, especially when a Kurdish representative takes the floor. The Kurdish party is actually not represented anywhere in Europe. Fayik Yagizay argues in favour of a broad peace conference. Gender? Among the Kurds, there are always two people, Mayor 1 woman and 1 man!

Then the subject of hatespeech comes up. In several countries there is already a law. In the Netherlands it doesn't look like they're working on it. It is striking that everywhere in Europe there is a strong call for 'housing' for vulnerable people. In the Netherlands, for example, there are homeless people who are living more and more on the streets. But it is also becoming clear that the Netherlands is lagging far behind in the reception of migrants. France and Germany have much more experience with this. Country reports are also published. Both Romania and Italy report on their democratic progress in the presence of the various ambassadors. This is sometimes painful to hear.

The Romanian ambassador was sometimes visibly touched by the report of the local NGOs. Explanation from him; we do not see how deeply rooted corruption is in culture. It is something like the use of knife and fork. So ordinary and accepted. And myths are being disproved, for example the myths surrounding the flows of migrants. Most migrants don't want to leave their homes at all. The only cause turns out to be war and gross violation of human rights time and again. People flee from great risks. Everyone does that. Climate victims e.g. do not come to Europe. In Italy, the population does not really know why they are against migrants. And then, of course, the discussion about the European identity. Europe is above all diversity. What would a modern identity of Europe be? All member countries have more or less the same problems now. In any case, liberalism as a basic philosophy is in a dead end, according to many. The Brexit is not really a subject, but it is noted that European citizens do not actually talk to English citizens. Only the politicians do that.

In the working group on poverty, I bring up the issue of housing. This is becoming a problem everywhere in Europe. Lack of or inability to live according to need is a major cause of poverty. After all, it is a human right. I will continue to follow this working group and will make my contribution on behalf of Marienburg.

Finally, I should like to say a few words. I still have eight pages of notes on which I have not yet said anything. It is too much for one article, but let it be clear that Europe lives in the soft underbelly of the Council of Europe. At the same time as the INGO meeting, there was a congress² of hundreds of mayors from all over Europe, including from Japan, Russia and Turkey, on the defence of democracy in the towns and villages. Few people hear of this kind of congresses in Strasbourg all the time, but they are forging links that are extremely important for the cohesion of Europe. It is above all a matter of citizens getting to know each other in their ideals and working on joint programmes.

At the closing session, the Alle Menschen werden Bruder is played. We stand up and it moves me.

Henk Baars

INGO: International Non-Governmental Organizations

EN-RE: European Network Church on the Move

Notes by Hugo Castelli Eyre:

¹ Henk means the Council of Europe. The European Council is the organization for the heads of government of the EU whilst the Council of Europe is dedicated to Human Rights which has the traditional French translation of Droits de l'homme (The Rights of Mankind) but in a recent plenary of the INGO Conference, the proposal of Anne Nègre, Vice-President of Equality between women and men, that the French term should be Droits humains, was adopted.

² This is the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, another institution of the Quadrilogue of the Council of Europe like the INGO Conference, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers (of Foreign Affairs of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe).

 Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator