Euroscepticism 'endemic' across religious organisations?
by Simona Guerra
If faith-based organisations are to maintain a dialogue with the EU institutions they may need to adopt a pragmatic euro-neutral stance
The most controversial and emotive debates on religion in the European Union emerged following the reference to the Judeo-Christian roots of Europe in the preamble of the draft Constitutional Treaty. That later led to a final agreement, proposed by the EU, which referenced the common values pertaining Europe's "cultural, religious and humanistic inheritance" – a formula which was acceptable to all the Convention members and reflected Europeans' views on the values and meanings of the EU.
In 2010, Eurobarometer survey data showed to 47 per cent of people the EU meant human rights; it meant peace to 44 per cent, and individual freedom to 23 per cent. A set of common European values existed, but religion never gathered much support, and was generally ranked last, with 6 per cent of the replies in 2010. When Europeans were asked what the EU represented, 45 per cent answered freedom of movement, 40 per cent the euro, and 23 per cent cultural diversity.
It was diversity and a common European identity that the then President of the European Commission Jacques Delors addressed in 1992 when he launched A Soul for Europe, "to give the EU spirituality and meaning". The implications and consequences of a new political union were discussed within the perspective of further enlargements towards the central and Eastern European countries.
The regular and continuous dialogue with confessional organisations, religious groups and churches was written down in Declaration No. 11 of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. The EU had taken on more member states in 1995 – Austria, Finland, and Sweden – and had already signed association agreements with central and Eastern European nations including Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as far back as 1991.
The first reference to religious communities in a treaty referred to their protection from prejudice and freedom of association, in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The role of civil society and its fundamental contributions were stressed only in 2001, with the White Paper on European Governance, while the debate on religious and faith organisations moved forward and became central with the Constitutional Treaty, then the Treaty of Lisbon.
The double rejections of the Constitutional Treaty in the French and Dutch referendums changed the nature of the debate. In 2009 the new Treaty of Lisbon referred to the churches in Article 17 – a partial response to church requests – and also to a recognised distinctive institutional channel between the churches and the EU from 2009.
In Brussels today there are many different interest representatives; in April 2011 there were almost four thousand organisations, with about 15,000 people involved. Among these, only 17 were registered as "representatives of religions, churches and communities of conviction". But that may be misleading about the overall picture of confessional and interreligious communities in Brussels, as it is mainly dependent on the low level of regulations on lobbying of the EU. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Indu religious communities, national churches, philosophical and non-confessional organisations all have a representation close to the EU institutions.
While promoting dialogue with the EU institutions and establishing policy information from the institutions to their religious communities, faith-based organisations often need to address identity and eurosceptic attitudes. As a consequence, faith-based organisations may need to maintain a more euro-neutral or pragmatic stance if they want to maintain a dialogue with 'their people', while trying to open or strengthen dialogue with the EU.
Euroscepticism across religious communities can be an endemic problem of this type of organisation. The EU appears to be a materialistic community, without values, and the secular dimension of Europe affects the Catholic Church community, worried about increasing normative integration on issues as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage. Yet while engaging directly in debates with the EU on life from conception, marriage and research on human embryonic stem cells, these organisations are still supportive of EU integration and may absorb critical debates from their communities.
Churches and religious communities have now established a regular and important dialogue with the EU institutions. As seen, despite the high number of lobbyists registered in Brussels, only 17 are representatives of religious organisations, churches and communities of conviction; only 10 of churches or religious organisations. In the next few years, following a more privileged communication with the EU institutions and further enlargements, faith-based organisations would need to balance their attitudes towards EU integration with the attitudes of their members and communities – if they aim to maintain a unique channel with the EU institutions.
Dr Simona Guerra is a lecturer in politics at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom
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