Do EU believe in God?

EU debates the question of secularism

, by Pauline Lanon

Do EU believe in God?

On October 5th 2006, some members of the Party of European Socialists (PES), François Hollande, the Secretary General of the French Socialist Party and Jean Glavany, a Deputy to the French National Assembly, specialist in terms of secularism (or laïcité in French), were gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels, for a conference on secularism in Europe.

This event was an opportunity to understand and compare the relationships between the Church and the institutions within the 25 Member States. The conference also followed a huge reflection about the centenary of the 1905 French law on the separation of the Church and the State and about the European Constitutional Treaty.

Is there a common European religious heritage? The preamble of the Constitutional Treaty has led to many strong reactions from the governments of different member states, mainly due to its spiritual aspect. Those who claimed the affirmation of a Judeo-Christian origin were against the French principle of laïcité, meaning a clear separation of religion and politics.

In his introduction to the conference on secularity, Bernard Poignant, the President of the French socialist delegation to the European Parliament stressed the fact that secularism as seen by the French does not necessarily apply to the 24 other members of the Union. The word laïcité itself cannot be translated into every European language, which sometimes means something else.

Nevertheless, we have to go through history in order to understand the place of religion in the European Union. According to Jean Baubérot, Professor at the Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes, in some countries like Northern Ireland, Poland or Greece religion is part of the national identity, whereas countries such as Germany or Italy were Christianised before the State was established. On the contrary, countries like Turkey chose to build a new State and to leave religion aside. Relations with religion are consequently all different.

The revival of religion, in particular Islam, and the appearance of more and more fundamentalists, emphasizes the fact that it is necessary to discuss questions of secularism in Europe.

However, the modernisation of societies, the enlargements of the European Union and globalisation have led to a general secularisation of Europe. Today the separation of the Church and the State exists in every European country. But the notion of secularism is mentioned in very few national Constitutions. According to Pasqualina Napolitano, an Italian socialist MEP, despite the lack of a clear reference to God in Italy’s Constitution, the country has now some difficulties to insert some texts ratified at the European level. It is also the case for the distinction between marriage and divorce in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The socialist MEP Sergio Sousa Pinto noticed that the Portuguese law keeps on imposing norms which are imported from Catholicism.

The revival of religion, in particular Islam, and the appearance of more and more fundamentalists, emphasizes the fact that it is necessary to discuss questions of secularism in Europe. According to Jean-Pol Baras, the Secretary General of the Belgian socialist delegation, we have to quickly deal with secularism by making sure it remains in the centre of democratic societies. He also added that there is no freedom without secularism.

The violent reactions that followed the caricatures of prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspapers or a philosopher recently threatened to death for being strongly against Islam, have shown that many people still ignore the meaning of the word “secular”. It is not about being against religion. But we can wonder when critics or caricatures become hatred. According to François Hollande, it is necessary to define a legal framework for secularism.

Let’s just not forget the real meaning of laïcité (whatever its translation) : a lesson in living together…

- Image :

- Motto of the French republic on the tympanum of a church, in Aups ; Source : Wikimedia.

More information at: (in French) (in French)

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