The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CCADD.

 

 

 

God, Religion, Secularism and the Convention on the future of Europe

 

by Felix Leinemann, COMECE

 

CCADD Conference, Mariahove Bellem, 1 September 2003

 

I.                    What is – or rather: what was – the Convention on the future of Europe?

From 28 February 2002 until 10 July 2003, the Convention on the future of Europe discussed the future shape of the European Union. Presided by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and his vice-presidents Giuliano Amato and Jean-Luc Dehaene, it was composed of 105 members: one representative of each National Government (28) and two representatives of each National Parliament (56) of Member and Candidate States, representatives of the European Parliament (16) and the European Commission (2). The result of the Convention’s work is a Draft Constitutional Treaty consisting of a Preamble and four parts.

·         Part I      – Constitutional provisions (Art. I-1 – I-59)

·         Part II      – The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union (Art. II-1 – II-54)     

·         Part III     – The policies and functioning of the Union (Art. III-1 – III-342)

·         Part IV    – General and Final provisions (Art. IV-1 – IV-10)

All documents are available in all 11 official languages of the EU on the official website of the Convention: http://european-convention.eu.int. They will soon be available in the languages of the accessing countries.

The Draft Constitutional Treaty is not a revolution, but an evolution of the current system of treaties which had become too complex over the decades. Even if doubts and reservations remain, some significant progress has been achieved. Inter alia, the Convention has:

·         established a single constitutional treaty and eliminated the different pillars;

·         clearly outlined the values and objectives of the Union in the first articles of the draft Constitution;

·         given the Union a single legal personality;

·         integrated the Charter of fundamental rights (including its preamble) into the constitution;

·         clarified the Union's powers and their exercise in relation to its Member States;

·         created a EU Foreign Affairs Minister and drafted new provisions on CFSP;

·         generalised the legislative procedure for the adoption of European laws (with exceptions);

·         simplified the EU’s instruments and procedures;

·         enhanced the role of national parliaments in the decision-making process;

·         introduced a title on participatory democracy, including a European citizen’s initiative;

·         introduced a solidarity clause involving mutual assistance in a security or humanitarian crisis.

The President of the European Convention presented the Draft Constitutional Treaty to the European Council of Thessaloniki. The European Council welcomed the draft and declared it “a good basis for starting” in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). The text was handed over to the Italian Presidency on 18 July 2003. The IGC will be opened on 4 October 2003 and should complete its work by the end of 2003 or spring 2004. The Constitutional Treaty will be signed by the Member States of the enlarged Union as soon as possible after the enlargement on 1 May 2004. It will then have to be ratified by all 25 Member States.

II.                  How did the Churches contribute to the debate on the future of Europe?

Christian Churches have monitored and accompanied the process of European integration since several decades. Since the beginning of the 1990s, almost every Christian confession is represented in political Brussels. Given the immense challenges the European Convention was to address, it is no surprise that the Churches – at European as well as at National level – accompanied its work from the start, and with numerous contributions[1].

Without prejudice to the activities and contributions of other Churches, some of COMECE’s activities were:

·         a consultation of National Bishops’ Conferences on the future of Europe during the summer of 2001;

·         COMECE’s declaration with regard to the European Council of Laeken, “Building trust among citizens in the future of Europe”, 5 December 2001;

·         Academic Session ”Meeting its global responsibilities and its citizens' expectations – challenges for a united Europe”, organised together with the Catholic University and the Diocese of Lille, France;

·         setting up of an ad-hoc group of experts for the preparation of the COMECE secretariat’s contributions to the Convention;

·         monitoring and regular reports about the sessions of the Convention through members of the COMECE secretariat;

·         15 written contributions of the COMECE Secretariat to the European Convention and its working groups, many of which together with the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches.

Two essential points must be emphasised in this context: (1) Almost every contribution was elaborated and promoted in close ecumenical co-operation. (2) Churches at national level, in both Member and Candidate States, played a significant role in promoting their ideas with regard to the delegates of Governments and Parliaments to the European Convention.

III.                Religion in the Draft Constitution

One might say that the underlying topic of many of the Churches’ contributions to the European Convention was the recognition of Religion as of public significance, as a positive and constructive contribution to society, and the recognition of its specific identity.

The draft Constitutional Treaty clearly recognises this significance. It refers to religion, religious communities and Churches in different parts of the draft Constitution. The preamble recognises the significance of Europe’s religious heritage. Art. I-51 guarantees the status of Churches and religious communities according to national law in the Member States and provides for an open, transparent and regular dialogue while recognising the specific identity and contribution of churches and religious communities. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, incorporated in part II of the Constitutional draft, refers to religion in different ways.

Part I

Preamble: The second paragraph of the preamble declares the Union’s inspiration by “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, the values of which, still present in its heritage, have embedded within the life of society its perception of the central role of the human person and his or her inviolable and inalienable rights”. This recognition is a step forward from the preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which merely mentions Europe’s “spiritual and moral heritage”. It emphasises the significance of the religious inheritance and its values also for Europe’s present.

Article I-51, by giving a new constitutional quality to Declaration N° 11 annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam, guarantees the European Union’s respect for the status of Churches and religious communities according to national law in the Member States. It also provides for an “open, transparent and regular dialogue“ while recognising the specific identity and contribution of churches and religious communities. It thereby recognises the significance and the specificity of Churches and religious communities both at National and EU level.

Part II

Preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights: The second paragraph of the preamble declares the Union “conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage”.

Article II-10 in the same wording as Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms guarantees the freedom of religion in its individual and collective dimension. According to the Article II-52 par. 3, religious freedom as guaranteed by the EU institutions must be the same as guaranteed by the said Convention. According to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, it can be said that Art. 9 of the Convention also includes the institutional dimension of religious freedom. This does not prevent Union law from providing more extensive protection.

Article II-14 recognises the right to education and the freedom to found educational establishments including, in its par. 3, the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions in accordance with national legislation in this regard.

Article II-21 par.1 prohibits any discrimination on a number of grounds among which religion or belief.

Article II-22: declares the Union’s respect for its cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

It should be noted that according to Art. II-51 the provisions of the Charter will be applied only to the policies and actions of the EU and its institutions, and to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law. The Charter thus respects the limits of the competences of the Union as conferred on it by its Member States as well as Member States’ prerogative and responsibility to legislate.

IV.                Is “God missing” in the draft Constitutional Treaty?

Since the end of the Convention’s work, there have been many calls to insert an explicit reference to Europe’s Christian roots into the preamble of the Constitutional Treaty. It is expected that the Italian Presidency will explore governments’ support for such an explicit reference at this coming weekend’s informal meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Riva del Garda, Italy. Currently, five out of twenty-five future Member States publicly support the insertion.

In its initial contribution to the European Convention on 21 May 2002, the COMECE Secretariat had underlined “the importance of recognising the great religious, spiritual, and intellectual movements and traditions as a living heritage significant for our times and for the future of Europe”. In a separate but connected context, it had also proposed that “a constitutional text aiming to engage the Union’s citizens should also recognise the totality of sources from which citizens draw these values”, and added: “The values and presuppositions on which a community is based transcend particular decisions of policy and law. They are the source from which fundamental rights emanate“. It then recommended “… In order therefore to facilitate citizens’ identification with the values of the European Union, and to acknowledge that public power is not absolute, (…) that a future Constitutional Treaty of the European Union should recognise the openness and ultimate otherness associated with the name of God. An inclusive reference to the Transcendent provides a guarantee for the freedom of the human person”. The Constitution of the Republic of Poland[2] was named as “a provision worth noting in this regard”.

When the European Convention started its work, no one would have believed how much both issues – Europe’s religious heritage and a reference to God – attracted the interest of the Convention itself and of the media. The Convention discussed the issue on several occasions during its plenary sessions. And even the BBC’s Internet presentation considered God the most important issue when the European Convention presented its first draft articles 1-16 in the beginning of February 2003. Deliberately ignoring the word “federal” in the first draft article, it titled: “God missing in EU Constitution“.

At its regular meeting just after the approval of the draft treaty by the European Convention, the executive committee of COMECE issued a statement, in which it welcomed the achievement of the Convention and added some critical remarks. It particularly welcomed draft Article 51, which guarantees the European Union’s respect for the status of Churches and religious communities in the Member States based on their different constitutional traditions, as well as the provision for open, transparent and regular dialogue, reflecting the specific contribution of churches and religious communities, distinct from secular authority, at the service of European society as a whole.

The COMECE executive committee also considered the final draft of the Preamble “an improvement on the original proposal made by the Presidium of the Convention”. The Bishops added: “By removing the references to Greece, Rome and the Enlightenment, the historical inaccuracy of omitting Christianity has been corrected. In our view, however, an inclusive reference to the contribution of Christianity, without which Europe would not be what it is today, remains essential.(…) Along with many of our fellow citizens, we also continue to believe that a reference to God should be included in this constitutional text as a guarantee of the freedom and dignity of the human person. We think that this completion is necessary and could be achieved without discriminating against anyone.”


 

Annex: Religion in the draft Constitutional Treaty (O.J. of the EU C 169 of 18 July 2003)

Part I

Preamble, second paragraph:

Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, the values of which, still present in its heritage, have embedded within the life of society its perception of the central role of the human person and his or her inviolable and inalienable rights, and of respect for law,

Article I-51: Status of churches and non-confessional organisations

1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.

2. The Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

Part II

Preamble of the Charter of Fundamental rights, second paragraph:

Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.

Article II-10: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. The right to conscientious objection is recognised, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

Article II-14: Right to education

1. Everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training.

2. This right includes the possibility to receive free compulsory education.

3. The freedom to found educational establishments with due respect for democratic principles and the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions shall be respected, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of such freedom and right.

Article II-21: Non-discrimination

1.      Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

Article II-22: Cultural, religious and linguistic diversity

The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

 


 

[1] All contributions of the COMECE-Secretariats to the Convention are available on the website “www.comece.org“. They can also be consulted on the website of the “Forum“ of the European Convention at “http://europa.eu.int/futurum/forum_convention/index_en.htm“.

[2] The preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland includes “both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources”.