Thursday

23rd Mar 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

Poland snubbed twice in EU summit fiasco

[Updated] Poland tried and failed to block EU summit conclusions shortly after failing to block Tusk’s re-election as Council chief, prompting bitter accusations.

Poland isolated in bid to remove Tusk

Poland appears increasingly isolated in Brussels as it seeks public support to unseat Donald Tusk as president of the European Council.

French candidates avoid EU debate

In their first TV debate, the main candidates for the April election only briefly discussed the country's EU policies, with far-right Le Pen and centrist Macron taking aim at each other.

News in Brief

  1. Russia invites EU diplomats to occupied Crimea
  2. UK parliament in lockdown after reported attack
  3. Brussels attacks remembered with minute of silence and noise
  4. Magnitsky's lawyer injured near Moscow
  5. Trump to travel to Brussels on 25 May for Nato summit
  6. Polish defence minister accuses Tusk of treason
  7. Fillon slips in polls as new allegations emerge
  8. Brexit summit for EU-27 will be on 29 April

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Advertisements
  2. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  3. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  4. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  6. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  7. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  8. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  10. Malta EU 2017Consumer Protection Laws to Be Strengthened by EU-Wide Cooperation
  11. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  12. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst

Latest News

  1. EU declaration to voice unity in troubled times
  2. Terror attack shuts down UK parliament
  3. Catalonia and Scotland at core of Europe's geopolitical conundrum
  4. La présidentielle française sous cyber-alerte maximale
  5. EU doing well in global energy ranking
  6. Child migrants endure 'abysmal conditions'
  7. French socialist woos Europe with new vision
  8. EU to Macedonia: 'Stop playing with fire'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  2. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  3. GoogleDigital Transformation in the Mobile Era: New Skills, Jobs & Growth - Debate 28 March
  4. UNICEFNew Law in Hungary on Detention of Migrant Children Raises Alarm
  5. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  7. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  8. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  9. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  11. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels