This time last week we were drawing our 2017 Annual Conference and General Meeting to a close in Oslo, Norway. What a week! Nearly 100 members and partners gathered to debate and discuss increasingly polarisation in Europe and what our response as social service and social justice organisations should be, can be and must be. We were challenged by key note speakers to redraw our faith based service, which we can see as a simple message, in an increasingly complex world. We were encouraged to look at new understandings of power and participation, find our way between principles and flexibility and avoid the temptation to become like a business that benefits from increasing precariousness. We further challenged to consider not only what we provide across Europe but how we contribute to a common European identity and our vision of the future of Europe, particularly at a time when there is increasing political fragmentation and mounting social, economic and judicial challenges.

What I saw our members bringing to Europe was expertise in the social challenges of today and of the future. Our members showed how they are developing innovative social service models to meet emerging needs such as advancing demographics, multi faith service provision, supporting safe and legal passage for migrants and social enterprise models for migrants and refugees. We saw how health care and social care must be integrated even further if a holistic care service is to be given and how our members could contribute to the European Commissions’ proposal on a European Pillar of Social Rights. Our members have a lot to offer!

But offering is not enough. We need to see Diaconal organisations as a valued and prioritised partner of government at all levels and with other NGO’s and social enterprise actors.  We need more recognition of what our members bring to society and how they are often filling the gaps left by ineffective social protection systems or being the first point of contact for people in increasingly precarious situations. In our closing AGM declaration our members offered this partnership, stating that “……we will continue to exchange and learn from each other to continuously improve our work and services, to serve and protect those exposed to precariousness, working with individuals and communities ……   in partnership with Churches, trade unions, businesses and civil society to build alliances…..”  But our members were also clear that we must work towards greater social justice, not accepting the status quo as unfortunate but unchangeable. Together, across our network and partners, and we hope in concert with other NGO’s, governments, social partners and more, we state the following:

Eurodiaconia members believe Social Europe must urgently be strengthened, developing policies and actions that ensure sustainable and just economic development and social protection. We therefore urge our national governments and the European institutions to resist financial, economic and ideological pressures which leave a large part of the population at risk of precarious situations. Instead, we advocate for promoting participatory democracy and adopting long-term policies placing peoples’ rights, well-being and protection at the centre of all future growth strategies.

This is the outcome of our week in Oslo, a greater commitment to Europe, to a Europe that brings prosperity rather than precariousness to the many rather than the few.  A Europe we want, A Europe we can have and a Europe we will work towards.

Have a good weekend,