Friday

20th Oct 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Tusk summits to create new-model EU

Tusk has proposed a series of 13 top-level talks to take forward European reform, but his backing for a multi-speed Europe risks deepening divide.

Catalonia to declare independence in a few days

Spain's king, Felipe VI, said Catalonia's leaders were breaking up the country's unity as hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied against police violence at Sunday's referendum.

Focus

Health MEPs want to phase out glyphosate by 2020

A committee resolution said the proposal to renew the glyphosate permit for a decade "fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment".

News in Brief

  1. Dutch PM: Brexit is 'still a bad idea'
  2. Commission to issue proposal on civil protection
  3. Tusk: 'No space' for EU intervention in Catalonia
  4. Austrian PM calls Brexit talks speed 'big disappointment'
  5. PM Muscat: journalist murder 'left a mark' on Malta
  6. Belgian PM: No crisis with Spain over Catalan remarks
  7. Ireland PM: Further Brexit concessions needed from UK
  8. Merkel: rule of law in Turkey going 'in wrong direction'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC Applauds the Bulgarian Government for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  2. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  3. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  6. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  7. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  8. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  9. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  10. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  11. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  2. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  3. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  4. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  5. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  9. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews