Sunday

18th Nov 2018

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.

Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Authorities in Budapest confirmed the former prime minister of Macedonia, fleeing a jail sentence in his own country, has filed for asylum. Despite Hungary's strict asylum laws, the pro-Kremlin politician was not turned away.

Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army

Angela Merkel's much-anticipated speech to the European Parliament was brief and to the point. Her message: Europe is alone in the world, the EU should be more united on defence, but not on the economy.

EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure

EU ministers' discussion on how to address rule of law issues in Poland and Hungary gets stuck on procedural issues, while Viktor Orban's government claims it is a target of the Brussels elite because of its anti-migration stance.

EU's centre-right make Weber their man to replace Juncker

The centre-right EPP party's congress wanted to show unity - but divisions remain after the political alliance lined up behind Germany's Manfred Weber as their 'Spitzenkandidat' ahead of next year's European election.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

On Armistice Day, EU is still best gift we can give our children

While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme. But there is a risk of limiting our commemoration to representing the past through just speeches, museum exhibits and visits.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us