Maintaining the Christian Heritage of Europe

Debates continue to flare over the reference of Christianity in the forthcoming EU constitution
( [email protected] ) May 27, 2004 04:10 PM EDT

On May 24, 2004, with less than a month remaining before the charter for the European Union is due, seven member states urged for the recognition of a “historical truth” by referring explicitly to the “Christian roots of Europe” in the forthcoming constitution, echoing the voice of millions of Christians and Catholics across the continent.

The placement of religion and specifically Christianity in the EU charter has been hotly debated since negotiations began in 2002. Representatives from the Catholic States of Poland, Italy, Portugal, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have repetitively called for the reference to Christianity. However, several of the more liberal states, including France, Sweden and Denmark, argued that the specific mention of Christianity or God would exclude Muslims and Jews, and should therefore be avoided.

The current draft of the proposed constitution, reflective of the much-secularized Europe, refers only to the “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.”

At that end, on Wednesday, May 26, the French Prime Minister Pierre Raffarin admitted that Christianity is an integral part of Europe, but said “secularism” should be a founding value for the future.

``The Christian heritage of Europe is clear. It cannot be contested. It is something that is engraved in our history,'' said Raffarin. “But the European project is secular and future is a European society which should include secularism as a founding value.''

On the contrary, representatives of Italy and Poland, with the support of the Vatican, urged for a change in the draft.

"This issue remains a priority for our governments as well as for millions of European citizens," representatives of Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Slovakia wrote to Ireland, the current holder of the EU presidency.

Poland specifically said the charter should refer to "both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values from other sources".

The Vatican also made clear that it wants a reference to Christianity in the document.

"If you are the prime minister of a Catholic country it would be very useful to have the Pope on your side, especially when you hold a referendum on the constitution," said one diplomat.

Earlier this month, the pope John Paul II greeted leaders of ten Catholic European States at the Vatican, and encouraged them to ensure the unity of Europe by holding onto it’s Christian roots.

“The unity of the European people, if it is to last, cannot only be economic and political... The soul of Europe remains unified today thanks to humane and Christian values that they have in common,” the Pontiff said.

"The history of the formation of European nations is tied to evangelizing and despite crises of spirituality the continent suffers to this day, its identity would be incomprehensible without Christianity," the Pope said.

Pope John Paul also reminded the diplomats that Europe "must keep and rediscover its Christian roots to overcome the great challenges of the third millennium: peace, dialogue between cultures and religions."

The debate over the charter is expected to last until the Brussels summit on June 17th, when the constitution is due to be agreed. The current Irish proposal is that a decision can be made when supported by 50% of member states representing 60% of the EU population. However, this proposal was rejected by Spain and Poland, leaving the possibility that Europe’s big three nations – Britain, France and Germany – could block any decision they do not favor.