The EU Constitution: the Antichrist?

Article published on Dec. 9, 2003
community published
Article published on Dec. 9, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The debate over the EU’s Christian roots has sprung up again slap bang in the middle of the debate about the Constitution. Faced with the this religious comeback, will the EU end up being Christian or secular?

It is a moot point how religion will (or will not) feature in the EU Constitution – the draft version was submitted to the President of the European Council in Rome on 18 July with no direct reference to Christianity. The preamble, however, does refer to the idea of a “religious legacy” whilst article 51 (Title IV: the democratic life of the EU) relating to the “statute of churches and non-confessional organizations” says that “the Union respects and does not prejudge the statute which churches and religious associations or communities enjoy, by virtue of national law (1), in the Member States […] The Union maintains an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.”

And yet, back in October 2002 the Pope himself insisted that there should be a “clear reference to God and the Christian faith”. His initiative built up some momentum –the most radical proposal has come from Poland, the country where John Paul II comes from: to include in the EU draft a passage from the national Constitution which contains an explicit reference to Christian religion. Some ‘Conventioneers’, Irish and Italians followed suit but the proposal was not adopted in the end. But the Spanish Head of Government has come back on this issue recently.

The EU, that « Christian club »

The idea that Europe is a kind of « Christian club » has been around for some time. The Europe of the Schuman declaration certainly owes a lot to the political movement of Christian democracy. At the time Christianity was also regarded as one of the bedrocks of European construction. If you look elsewhere, at the religious circumstances of the six founding countries, you have no difficulty understanding why Europe could be perceived as a sort of club for Christian states. But it is something of an irreversible step if we want to bestow a specific and normative element to this historical past. By so doing, we would be confirming that Europe has a vocation to be Christian and that this vocation must be written into the Constitution.

What, these days, would be the point in a clause referring to the Christian spirit of the Constitution? That would undoubtedly be an important step back in terms of European constitutional culture. It would be truly legitimizing the political actions of the religious and Christian spheres. Would we not then be giving more political recognition to a religion than is reasonable?

What is more, although Europe still seems sociologically Christian, several strands of religion exist side by side: Catholicism, the reformed Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and let’s not forget the growing proportion of European Muslims. In Europe Christianity no longer has a monopoly on spirituality.

Passive evangelisation

So what are the motivations for those who want to mention the Christian legacy in the EU Constitution and, above all, what would be the implications if it were included? Some of them, for example Poland, raise concerns about coherence with their national constitutions while others believe they are promoting a indestructible legacy, maintaining a minimum level of morality guaranteed (in their view) by religion. Still others think quite simply that they are providing their support for Christian religious authorities as privileged interlocutors of politics. So this seems to be about counting on the good generated by “passive evangelization”. Or is it about finally sorting out the Turkish problem? Two types of implication can be identified here. First, implications which would apply to Christian politico-religious authorities: the Church would have no trouble becoming an official privileged advisor of public Community powers. It could in any case claim this statute. The second implication is other religions being excluded by the Constitution – for example what would become of Turkey, an essentially Islamic candidate country, if Europe declared that it was constitutionally Christian? Could the European Union honour its slogan “United in its diversity” while declaring the exclusiveness of Christianity? Of course it couldn’t and non-Christian countries would then be in danger of being excluded.

Secular Europe?

The separation of Church and State is a major achievement of European civic culture. Introducing a religious dimension into the text of the Constitution probably brings with it more risks than advantages. The current status of the text is a compromise between mentioning Christianity and deleting any mention of religion in the Constitution (3).

The secular principle means that no religion is put before any other and makes it possible to deal with different religions more pragmatically and more fairly. Supported by Denmark, France and others at the last summit in Naples, the inclusion of secularity in the text is not a foregone conclusion. But it would be the first guarantee that non-Christian religions and other agnostic or atheist beliefs would not be marginalised. The Constitution must obviously not be the Antichrist or the advocate of any religion whatever it might be. History will relate the different religious contributions to the construction of the EU (4). As for the EU Constitution, it is first and foremost a process of “constitutionalisation” of the existing Treaties. In this sense, it seems legitimate that it is addressed above all to European citizens, leaving them free, for their part, to address, if they so wish, to whichever God they wish.

(4) This is our only point of contention with Bronislaw Geremek : History and Constitution are two different things. History relates after the events but does not exist, in our view, to indicate exclusive directions for the future. See the interview with Geremek “Doing Justice to History Does Not Mean Excluding People” in this dossier.