Sunday

25th Aug 2019

EU atheist-freemason summit 'very odd', says Europe's chief unbeliever

  • Atheists would rather there were no summits with them or the churches (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The first ever summit between representatives of secularist, atheist and masonic organisations and the leaders of the European Union's three main institutions was "very odd," Europe's top unbeliever has said.

On Friday (15 October), leaders from what the European Commission describes as "philosophical non-confessional organisations" met with the presidents of the European Commission, Parliament and Council to discuss their views on poverty and social exclusion. The first meeting of its kind, it is the secular counterpart to the summits the three institutions are now obliged by the Lisbon Treaty to regularly have with religious leaders.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

David Pollock, the president of the European Humanist Federation, told EUobserver that his organisation is against the idea of the meetings but went along to balance out a previous EU meeting with religious figures.

"There is no reason why we as atheists or freemasons, any more than religious leaders, have any particular expertise on poverty reduction strategies. There were a series of fairly predictable expressions of outrage that citizens remain in poverty and demands for greater solidarity but nothing especially specific in the way of any strategy. There was lots of good will and not a great deal else," he said.

"It was all a bit odd."

The representatives gave short three-minute statements on the topic of poverty in the union and then lunched with the three presidents.

Mr Pollock said the EU should go beyond charity payments and its focus on poverty reduction and look instead to specific legislative efforts to reduce income inequality, such as raising minimum pay rates and setting and subsequently reducing maximum pay rates.

The group has opposed the Lisbon Treaty's institutionalisation of religious consultation, but: "As the treaty has passed, this can't be undone, and the churches have this ready access at the most senior level, so it is important that we take part in order to make the counterargument."

Atheist Ireland, the UK-based National Secular Society, the European Association for Free Thought and Belgium's Secular Action Centre also took part in the two-hour meeting, as well as the masonic Grand Lodges or Grand Orients of eight EU member states: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.

"In total, of the 18 representatives there, atheist or secularist organisations were outnumbered two to one, with five from the humanist groups and 12 from the freemasons," Mr Pollock explained.

He believes it is inappropriate that atheist groups have been lumped in with the secretive freemasons.

"I suppose they were there insofar as they are in favour of a separation between church and state, although some did make a few friendly references about Christian values. But I don't have any particular quarrel with what they had to say about poverty," he said.

Emerging in the late 16th century in England and subsequently spreading throughout the world, the Freemasons split in 1877 between the English-speaking lodges and their continental counterparts over the question of god. Anglophone Freemasons require that their members believe in a deity, while continental freemasons do not.

The atheists are more concerned about what they describe as the "privileged access" offered to religious groups. The last EU religious summit, in July, also focussed on the question of poverty. Previous meetings with religious leaders have considered climate change, immigration and "flexicurity" - a Danish model for the welfare state.

"It is not just the meetings. The process involves a lot more. What we are worried about is that churches - and in particular the Catholic Church as it is in the best position to exploit this process - to insert themselves at the earliest stage of policy formation. They explicitly want pre-legislative consultations," Mr Pollock said.

Other international fora where churches have been offered institutional access, he added, give an idea of what the Vatican hopes to achieve in the EU.

"When it comes to family planning, women's rights, gay rights, they are very active at the UN. The Church is positively crowing about how recently they have been able to eliminate language on access to abortion, safe pregnancies and sex education in a recent report on the Millennium Development Goals," he noted.

"One should be very worried about similar moves that might go on as a result of this process in the EU."

For its part, the Catholic Church denies it has any ulterior motives in engaging in the consultations.

"Abortion, these other topics are of course a concern to the Catholic Church, but we know very well that these are not competences of the European Union," Johanna Touzel, spokeswoman for the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (Comece), the Church's European lobby outfit.

"Even if we would want such influence, we cannot do this because the EU has no responsibility here. They are instead raised at the national level," she continued.

"The diologue is open, very transparent, a democratic procedure," she continued. "It's not done behind closed doors. You can see the list of all participants and all proposals and contributions are published."

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, a devout Catholic, said after the meeting: "We acknowledged the experience of humanist and philosophical leaders when dealing with this challenge [poverty]. I look forward to further strengthening this dialogue."

One in three Europeans have no religion, according to the European Humanist Federation.

Orban praises von der Leyen after first face-to-face

The EU Commission president-elect said she had a "good talk" with Hungary's controversial premier. Orban returned the praise, saying said the former German defence minister "thinks with [a] central Europeans' head".

Von der Leyen aims to 'rebalance Europe'

The German EU Commission president-elect hopes to bridge divisions within the EU, as she meets with EU leaders setting up her team of commissioners.

Johnson's call for new Brexit deal hits EU 'no'

The UK will not nominate a new EU commissioner, the new British PM said in his first address to parliament, and insisted that the Irish backstop can be renegotiated - without giving any specifics on alternative solutions.

Selmayr shifted to Vienna, ahead of von der Leyen arrival

London and Washington had been rumoured, but instead the German political mastermind behind the EU commission will now work as a quasi-EU ambassador in Vienna. He irked many in Brussels but also shook things up.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us