European Bishops Comment on a New Economic Model

Recommend a Community of Solidarity, Responsibility

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ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 ( The bishops of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) today published a commentary on what they term the concept of «a highly competitive social market economy.»

This, they said, has become one of the treaty objectives of the European Union (EU) since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

In looking at how best to react to the current economic and financial crisis affecting Europe the bishops recommend that the EU become «a viable ‘Community of Solidarity and Responsibility.'»

The roots of the term «social market economy» are found in Europe’s philosophical, religious, and, in particular, Christian heritage, the COMECE commentary explains. It is a concept most commonly used in German-speaking countries, but it is also used in other countries, such as Poland. 

The term usually means that the free and competitive market is placed in the context of the principle of solidarity in order to promote greater social equality, achieved through the role of the state.


The COMECE commentary goes into more detail about what this dimension of solidarity means. The concepts of «gift» and «reciprocity» are key to understanding this. Gift refers to the free action undertaken as part of solidarity.

This free action, along with the role of the state is vital, the bishops said. «Assistance rendered to others as a free form of active love and solidarity — not motivated by obligation, with no expectation of receiving anything in return immediately or directly, and which often has its origin in religious faith — must not be stifled, either through bureaucratic forms of state solidarity or through market solutions motivated by short-term considerations.»

The commentary defends the free market from accusations of it being anti-social. «Ordered in the right way it can be a place for interactions that create relationships,» it says.

It also insists that the market needs to be economically efficient and competitive, otherwise governments won’t be able to raise enough revenue to pay for social welfare measures.

In addition, «the European market needs not only rules, particularly in the financial sector, but also virtue-based action on the part of all market participants, beginning with the entrepreneur and reaching to the consumer.»

Thus, economic reform is not just a matter of more rules and regulations, but also a question of institutional ethics, morality and virtue.


What the bishops did criticize was an economic model that aims solely at the accumulation of profit. «This vision threatens to overshadow the social and ecological dimensions of quality of life, which often cannot be directly expressed in monetary terms, and ignores the impact of economic activity on others, especially the generations to come,» the commentary states.

The commentary also calls for a reallocation of responsibilities between the European Union and its member states in order to guarantee a dignified standard of living for all. 

The COMECE bishops came out in favor, in the long term, of what they called «a true world political authority with supranational structures and institutions is developed.» Such a body, they said «should show due regard for the principles of justice and ecological responsibility.»

«From the start, the project of European unification has been more than purely economic,» the statement concluded. «It has been, and is, a political and moral project: it should serve justice and peace in Europe and worldwide.

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