Monday

25th Mar 2019

EU to hold atheist and freemason summit

  • Under pressure from Belgium, the EU has been forced to hold a summit for atheists, scheduled for 15 October (Photo: wikipedia)

Brussels is to hold an EU summit with atheists and freemasons in the autumn, inviting them to a political dialogue parallel to the annual summit the bloc holds with Europe's religious leaders.

While the EU is a secular body, the three European presidents, of the commission, parliament and EU Council, alongside two commissioners, on Monday met with 24 bishops, chief rabbis, and muftis as well as leaders from the Hindu and Sikh communities. The annual dialogue, which has taken place since 2005, is for the first time this year made legally obligatory under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty.

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

Under pressure from Belgium, which constitutionally protects and financially supports humanist organisations as well as churches, the EU has been forced to hold a mirror-image summit, but of atheists, scheduled for 15 October.

However, in a move that perplexed and annoyed humanist groups, the EU atheist summit will also welcome under the rubric of ‘non-religious groups', the Freemasons, the secretive fraternal organisation, according to commission spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein.

"I find it rather odd," David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation, told EUobserver. "Some of the Grand Lodges are secularist organisations, and strongly for separation of church and state, but they also retain all sorts of gobbledygook and myths such as the Great Architect of the Universe."

Emerging in the late 16th century in England and subsequently spread 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.

"Their public face is that they do charitable work and they do indeed engage in this, but there are also rituals involving blindfolded candidates with their trouser-legs rolled up during initiation," continued Mr Pollock.

"It's boys' games sort of a thing."

Mr Pollock told this website that humanists had opposed any inclusion of the ‘religion clause' in first the EU Constitutional Treaty and subsequently the Lisbon Treaty, arguing that "no one has any right to some special summit any more than any other type of organisation, and we should wait in line to speak to commissioners, to access at the highest level, like any other NGO, which is what churches are."

"Neither religious groups nor non-religious ones have any greater claim to taking up the time of commissioners."

"But sadly we lost that battle, and so with the atheist summit, at least we're being treated equally, although I'd rather if we were there along with the churches. Instead we're being bundled off with the Freemasons."

According to the commission's Ms von Schnurbein, Brussels views the Freemasons as a "community of conscience interconnected throughout Europe," and "a form of humanist organisation."

She dismissed concerns that while churches and atheist groups are free for anyone to join, membership in the Freemasons, a private organisation of men, with some separate Grand Lodges for women, is by invitation only and requires initiation fees and an annual subscription.

The EUobserver attempted to speak with the United Grand Lodge of England, the oldest Grand Lodge of masons in the world, regarding this development but without success.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has had its nose put out at the annual EU summit with religious leaders by the presence for the first time this year of Hindus and Sikhs.

According to La Croix, the French Roman Catholic daily, the church, happy to embrace an ecumenism of the great monotheistic faiths at the EU level, fears that the enlargement of the meeting to include such groups beyond those "more anchored across the whole of the continent," suggests the EU is being "religiously correct".

According to a spokesman for President Van Rompuy, next year the meeting could include a Buddhist.

Beyond the annual summit, religious leaders interpret Article 17, which commits the EU to holding "an open, transparent and regular dialogue with… churches and non-confessional and philosophical organisations", as meaning regular meetings with senior civil servants, not just on grand themes such as Monday's topic of the battle against poverty, but on more concrete legislative measures dealing with climate change, education, immigration, social services and labour laws.

In the future, they hope to have similar relations with EU agencies, notably the Fundamental Rights Agency, as well as with the bloc's new diplomatic corps, the External Action Service.

EU commission to map gender recognition

The European Commission will start looking at how EU states determine genders - as part of an effort to make it easier for people to determine their own identities.

EU to propose scrapping summer time change

Based on the preliminary results of an online survey in which mostly Germans took part, the EU executive is proposing that the whole EU stops changing times in March and October.

Investigation

How to get around the EU posted workers directive

Some EU careworkers in Belgium receive around €400 a month - despite their carers paying €2,500 a month and paying for flights and accommodation. The answer lies in how firms can skirt the safeguards in the EU's posted workers directive.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Latest News

  1. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  2. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  3. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  4. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  5. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  6. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  7. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  8. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us