Catholic high-level group could fuel EU 'God' debate
European bishops have commissioned a high-profile group of thinkers to draft a report on the EU's common values, in a move which could spur the debate on the need to include Christianity in a new EU treaty text.
The "group of wise men and women" held its first meeting on Monday (11 September) at the initiative of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE).
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The experts group - consisting only of Roman Catholics - notably includes three members of the previous European Commission - Mario Monti, Franz Fischler and Loyola de Palacio - as well as Jacques Santer, who led the EU executive from 1995-1999 and former European Parliament president Pat Cox.
Former Belgian ambassador to the EU, Philippe de Schoutheete, who also has a seat in the group, said the aim of the project is to raise awareness of European values among the public at a time when most people are "totally ignorant or unaware" that there is "something more" to the EU than the single market or agricultural policy.
"The EU process has clearly been based on a certain number of values, but in the course of the process they have been largely forgotten," he said.
A COMECE spokeswoman added that the initiative is also "indirectly" aimed at influencing a political declaration on the EU's values and ambitions which the bloc's leaders are planning to adopt on 25 March 2007 - the EU's 50th anniversary date.
The member states' EU birthday declaration is likely to spark fresh debate on Europe's Christian heritage as the basis of its common values - a debate which was recently re-opened by the German chancellor Angela Merkel who made a plea for including "God" in a new EU treaty text.
The text of the EU constitution, which was put on ice after French and Dutch voters rejected it last year, does not include a reference to Christianity, despite strong lobbying by COMECE during the drafting of the text in 2003-2004.
After visiting the Pope in August, Mrs Merkel said "I underlined my opinion that we need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way."
Mr De Schoutheete said that the newly launched experts group is not a fresh Catholic attempt to get "God" into a new EU treaty text as such.
"We have no mandate to draft a constitution or a preamble of a constitution," he said.
The group will instead identify the values that drove the EU's founding fathers and which can be "linked to Christian faith" - such as peace, freedom, a rejection of extreme nationalism, solidarity, respect for diversity and subsidiarity (the idea that political decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level).
But COMECE's secretary general Noel Treanor said that apart from the work of the experts group, European bishops are themselves set to discuss their stance on "God" in a new EU treaty, now that Ms Merkel has re-opened the debate.