9th Mar 2021


The churches: a moral locomotive?

While delegates at the Convention have tabled amendments pro or contra the inclusion of a reference to religion in article 2, the churches have already - whether or not religion will be mentioned in the final article - penetrated the EU system and vice versa.

Not only has the Commission among its groups of policy advisors established a special initiative "Dialogue with Religions, Churches and Humanisms" headed by Dr. Michael Weninger. The churches, too, have their representations in Brussels.

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In 1992 Jacques Delors, former president of the EU Commission, claimed that if in the next ten years we haven't managed to give a Soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning the game would be up. Evidently, he like emperor Constantine felt that by adding Christianity to the empire, it would become coherent - create a European identity which was not previously there.

A soul for Europe

The "A Soul for Europe" initiative was established in 1994 with the explicit - and Commission financed - aim of involving religious communities in dialogue with the European institutions through meetings, seminars, social activities. The list of these political/religious events taking place all over Europe and organised in collaboration with the Commission's "Dialogue with Religions, Churches and Humanisms" is long, as can be seen on its homepage www.europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/policy_advisers.

As a number of political decisions are taken at the informal level, many parliamentarians seem to have been overtaken in the fast lane through the Commission's collaboration with religious civil society. Religion will no doubt be mentioned in one form or another in the final treaty, and the political contacts with religious leaders are already in place.

Church leaders have for a long time - contrary to the knowledge and opinions of large numbers of the laity - also deliberately negotiated the EU integration process, making specific suggestions to the Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as to the Constitutional treaty.

The crucial value of Christianity

The entrance-point is the question of values, the church-claim being that the quest for values in policy should be developed through a structured dialogue with the churches and religious communities. Evidently the churches see themselves as the only safeguards of values, a point which a number of politicians seem to share.

Churches, however, cannot be the containers of values so to speak, which subsequently may be offered to the political system as a legitimisation of political decisions, without the churches being compromised in this process. One crucial value of Christianity is after all the value of letting political power runs its own course.

Roman Catholic Church history of lobbying

The question is, furthermore, if more structured negotiations between church leaders and politicians will be taken over by the diplomatically astute and experienced Roman Catholic Church (RCC) which has a long history of lobbying the UN system, national governments, as well as local political leaders.

The evangelical/protestant churches, organised in the umbrella-organisation CEC, "Conference of European Churches", have issued statements on a variety of EU-issues in collaboration with COMECE, the Catholic "Commission of the Bishop's Conferences of the European Community". In September 2002 CEC and COMECE thus claimed that the more structured dialogue with the EU-system should take place at areas like social policy, migration, development aid, peace making, education and pastoral care.

Moral locomotive for the European integration process

One shudders to think about how the politically less experienced Evangelical churches will fare in negotiations first with the (for the time being) highly conservative RCC, and next with the political system, where disagreements among the churches will be ironed out - as it already happened in relation with the EU integration process. Many Evangelical member-churches contrary to the RCC do not have a hierarchical structure. This for example is the case for the Danish Lutheran Church.

Since Evangelicals believe fiercely in every single believer holding her and his own authority - both in the political and the spiritual realm - the Evangelical churches should pull out of being part of a moral locomotive for the European integration process. These churches may in the long run hold the moral upper ground if they manage this. Most governments have a ministry under which religious affairs belong. This is the proper political context for political negotiations of relevance for the religious communities.

LENE SJØRUP - is a Danish theologian, Ph.D. and an independent researcher


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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