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Not Much Chance for 'God' to Be in New EU Constitution, Says Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told European religious leaders Tuesday there was no chance of including a mention of God or Europe's Christian roots in a redrafted European Union constitution.
( [email protected] ) May 16, 2007 09:36 PM EDT

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel told European religious leaders Tuesday there was no chance of including a mention of God or Europe's Christian roots in a redrafted European Union constitution.

Merkel, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told reporters after interfaith talks that there was little support among EU governments to reopen negotiations over whether to include a reference to Christianity in the EU charter, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago.

"I would have liked to include such a reference," she said, but added that as head of the EU presidency "I have to take note of the fact that there isn't much chance of this reference being included."

Merkel added she would however, fight to keep a reference to the value of religion in the community which is listed in the second part of the constitution document.

"Unfortunately I can't hold out any hope for anything else," she said.

Poland has recently demanded that if the EU's constitution is overhauled, a reference to God should be reconsidered. However, Merkel, who is leading EU talks on the future of the constitution, is reticent to open full-blown negotiations on the entire text, fearing it would destroy compromises reached during the original drafting of the constitution three years ago.

Religious groups, and notably the late Pope John Paul II, lobbied EU leaders to get a mention of Europe's Christian roots in the text. Poland, Italy and Merkel's conservative party also backed such a move, but was blocked by France, Belgium and others who feared such a measure could discriminate against other religions and on longstanding national laws on division of church and state.

At their talks Tuesday, twenty religious leaders from across Europe joined EU officials calling for greater tolerance and respect at talks meant to build better interfaith relations between Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who hosted the talks, said universal values of respect and dignity "plays a decisive role in the integration process" between citizens.

Merkel said Europeans "had a responsibility ... to push for tolerance" among ethnic and religious groups, amid growing reports of a rise in Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia across Europe.

Religious tensions spiraled last year after cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark triggered violent protests in the Middle East and Asia.

Religious leaders from various denominations attended Tuesday's meeting, including the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres, Anas Schakfeh, leader of Austria's Islamic community, Grand Rabbi of Strasbourg Rene Gutman and Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top envoy for contacts with other religions.

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