Merkel gives up on God in EU treaty
German chancellor and Christian Democrat Angela Merkel has voiced regret there will be no reference to Christian roots in the revised EU treaty, amid controversial remarks about damage to churches in Turkish Cyprus at a meeting of religious VIPs in Brussels.
"You know what my personal view is. I would have liked the constitution to deliver such a reference. But as president of the European Council, I see there is not much of a chance," she said on the prospects of God appearing in a preamble to the EU text. "I can't hold out any hope," she added.
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Her statement comes in the context of Germany's push to fix the broad outlines of a new EU treaty - still called a "constitution" by some - in late June, following months of bilateral consultations with EU states after the rejection of the original EU constitution in 2005.
The God debate is at least as old as the 2002 EU convention that wrote the original constitution, with Roman Catholic states like Poland and the Vatican pushing for the reference, but with France and the UK worried over national secularist traditions or damaging relations with Islamic EU candidate Turkey.
The EU's 50th birthday declaration in March rejuvenated the discussion. But in the end the birthday text made no reference to Christianity, while praising "identities and diverse traditions of member states" and how the EU is "enriched" by a "variety of languages, cultures."
When the German chancellor, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering met Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders at the EU capital on Tuesday (15 May), they stuck to safe ground on "universal" EU values such as "human dignity."
"Human dignity is at the basis of the values we share in Europe," Mr Barroso said. "We have discussed the need to respect freedom of religion not just in the EU but in all the countries that want to be part of the EU and in the wider world."
Earlier at lunch, Mr Barroso told his guests that every time he talks with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan he stresses the importance of freedom of worship. Mr Poettering also voiced concern over the murder in April of three Christian publishers in Turkey and praised Ankara's handling of the incident.
But the meeting was not entirely free of controversy, with Ms Merkel at the final press conference saying the EU "can't close its eyes" to violations of "human dignity" in "particular terms" such as "the fact religious property is being damaged in Northern Cyprus."
The Archbishop of All Cyprus
Her comment relates to her conversation with His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, the Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus, who criticised Turkish Cypriot authorities at Tuesday's religious seminar. An EU official later played down Ms Merkel's words, saying she was merely trying to reflect the day's debate.
About 500 Orthodox Christian churches fell under Turkish Cypriot control following the Turkish-Greek conflict on the island in 1974. The past 33 years have seen widespread reports of looting and vandalism of priceless, Byzantine-era frescos and icons in the region.
But the Turkish Cypriot community refuses to take the blame, saying that non-recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by the international community means crucial aid from bodies like UNESCO cannot get through. The republic recently sent a letter to MEPs that also complains of damage done to Islamic sites in southern Cyprus.
"There are issues relating to this on both sides," a Turkish Cypriot representative told EUobserver.