On June 18, 2004, members of the European Union agreed, at least for the time being, on a finalized version of the 24-country union’s constitution. However, the Constitution failed to include a direct reference to Christianity, God or faith in its preamble, thereby sparking criticism from Christian leaders across Europe.
‘‘The roots from which one is born cannot be cut,'' said Pope John Paul II in a message delivered in Polish on Sunday, June 27, 2004.
Nearly a third of the nations, led by Poland and Italy, called for a specific reference to God in the constitution’s preamble; currently, the constitution merely notes that Europe draws “inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.”
‘‘I thank Poland, which faithfully defended in European institutions the Christian roots of our continent, from which the culture and civil progress of our times grew,'' John Paul said.
Meanwhile, the Conference of European Churches (CED) – a fellowship of some 125 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic Churches from all countries of Europe – applauded the constitution, calling it an important step in building a more unified continent.
"We welcome the adoption of a European Constitution by the EU Heads of Government in Brussels yesterday," said Rev. Dr Keith Clements, General Secretary of the CEC. "After a first attempt at adopting the Constitution failed last December this is an important step towards building a more integrated Europe. We want to congratulate the members of the European Convention on the Future of Europe, which laid the basis for the adopted text, and especially the Irish Presidency for its indefatigable efforts to tackle the remaining differences between the EU member states."
In the statement, which was released on June 19, the CEC General Secretary mentioned that some of its member bodies would have appreciated a direct reference to Europe’s Christian heritage.
“Despite the recognition of the identity and the special contribution of churches in Europe in Article I-51, many of CEC's member churches would have welcomed an explicit reference to the Christian roots of Europe in the Preamble of the Constitution,” the statement read.
The statement also urged the EU to strenthen the unity between the continent and its citizens.
“In spite of positive signs the project of the EU constitution revealed failures in discussions about Europe's future. The project was unable to sufficiently inspire the EU's citizens in 'bringing Europe closer to its citizens'. The low voter turnout, notably in the new member countries, for the elections for the European Parliament last weekend was a clear indication of that,” the statement read.
“With the adoption of the Constitution in the Inter-Governmental Conference, the process has not ended; it has reached a new stage. "Much will now depend on how the European Institutions themselves as well as politicians will be able to make European citizens identify with the European integration process and the European Constitution. This is an important challenge not only in the light of forthcoming referenda on the Constitution in many European countries. This is probably the most important challenge for the European integration process as a whole," the Director of CEC's Church and Society Commission added.