BRUSSELS (EJP)---More than twenty years after its creation in Paris, the European Jewish Congress (EJC), the umbrella body representing Jewish communities across Europe, opens a permanent Brussels office this week.
The main activity of this office will be to closely follow the developments of the EU institutions - the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Council-, in issues of importance to the European Jewish communities.
The official opening event will take place on Wednesday in the presence of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Vice-President Jacques Barrot, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau and several MEPs.
The need for an EU representation had been regularly raised within the EJC’s executive body, but it is only last year, at the organization’s general assembly, that the decision to open the Brussels office was unanimously taken.
"While the EJC is based in Paris since its creation in 1986, we found that there was a vacuum on European level and that there was a need for a powerful lobby organization to work closely with the EU institutions. This is easier when you are in Brussels," Raya Kalenova, who heads the new office, told EJP.
"We have always seen the growing importance of the EU for the European Jewry and we are committed to the relationships that we have established over the years with the EU institutions."
The representation will be the hub for the EJC’s projects and initiatives at the highest level of decision-making in the European Union.
"We will seek to maintain and expand already existing bonds with the EU," Kalenova said.
"Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, which will reform the EU institutions, the EU is about to become an even more efficient and influential global player," she added.
Among the issues which will top the agenda of the EJC’s in the EU capital, the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism in Europe - a phenomenon whose importance varies from country to country - is expected to be "our very raison d’être," said Russian-born and educated Raya Kalenova, who has worked for years in the private sector in Eastern Europe.
"We propose to fight anti-Semitism by promoting tolerance, reconciliation and interfaith dialogue," she said.
Memory of the Holocaust
Two years ago, at the initiative of its president, Moshe Kantor, the EJC created the European Council for Tolerance and Reconcilation (ECTR) in order to bring together a broad coalition of moderate forces, representing the whole spectrum of Europe’s religious, cultural and political diversity, to speak against all forms of extremism.
The Brussels office will work together with the European Fundamental Rights Agency in order to create more awareness of anti-Semitism at the EU institutions.
“In this framework, we will try to bring together our efforts with other lobbying organizations,” Kalenova said.
The office will also closely follow the activities of the European Parliament committees, especially the foreign affairs and human rights committees, concerning issues such as the growing Iranian nuclear threat or the EU-Israel political, cultural and economic ties.
Stressing the need to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive as a "constant warning" of what can happen when democracy capitulates before the most repugnant and brutal expressions of hatred, the EJC will commemorate on January 27, 2010 together with the Polish government the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau nazi death camps.
"We have invited many members of the European Parliament to join us in this journey to our painful history," said Raya Kalenova.