Vision for Europe
European Parliament, Brussels
27 February 2007
Launch of the
on Europe’s Universal Values
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Catholics for a Free Choice
European Humanist Federation
A Vision for Europe
The Brussels Declaration
Hundreds of national and European politicians, prominent academics and community leaders are launching a campaign to head off plans by the Christian churches and other religious groups for even greater involvement in European affairs. Attempts to claim the Christian religion as the foundation for the continent’s democratic and ethical values are being strongly contested.
Faced by the increasing assertiveness of radical Islam within Europe (note 1), there is a clear danger of a backlash against some of our minority communities. Many Europeans are alarmed by evidence that a new nexus of religion and politics is emerging in reaction to these threats. They do not see regression to a Europe in which religion plays an increasing, and divisive role in Europe’s institutions as the answer to these problems. Rather we need to concentrate all our efforts on reinforcing those values which unite us while drawing a line against attempts to undermine our cherished freedoms.
The Vision for Europe campaign, led by a coalition of religious and secular organisations, is being launched to challenge our political masters to defend Europe’s liberal, humanitarian and inclusive values: values still shared by the great majority of our citizens.
The centrepiece of the Vision for Europe campaign is the Brussels Declaration (copy below). It is the outcome of an unprecedented collaboration between academics, politicians, writers, community leaders and both secular and religious non-governmental organizations. The Declaration is a restatement of the fundamental principles on which modern European civilisation is based. The Declaration has gained widespread support from conservative, liberal, social democratic and green party politicians, from Catholic, Protestant, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu leaders, from academics and scientists including several Nobel laureates, and from writers and journalists from across the whole of Europe.
Said Roy Brown, coordinator of the Committee for a Vision for Europe, “The time has come to reaffirm our common values. These are not the values of a single tradition or culture, they are common to all of the cultures and traditions that make up modern Europe. Signatories of the Declaration – who include both past and present European government leaders – warn that unless we stand firm and defend our values now, we risk seeing them being further eroded by a rising tide of fundamentalism and authoritarianism.”
Following a visit to Pope Benedict XVI in Rome last year, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will preside over the 50th anniversary celebrations of the signature of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March, said: “I emphasised the need for a constitution and that it should refer to our Christian values.” With input from Europe’s other heads of government, Merkel is preparing a “Berlin Declaration” – which reports suggest will be a charter of traditional values that she sees as spearheading her avowed attempt to reintroduce Christian values into the European Constitution. (See note 2)
David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation says: “If the Berlin Declaration has the Judeo-Christian emphasis we fear, not only will it be divisive, it will pave the way for even closer involvement by conservative religious groups in Europe’s institutions. The churches already claim, as a right, privileged access to the institutions of the European Union, but Europe is not a theocracy. The Brussels Declaration calls for a secular Europe where no system of belief, either religious or non-religious is privileged.”
The Brussels Declaration is backed by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Catholics for Free Choice and the European Humanist Federation with support from the European Parliament’s All Party Working Group on Religion and Politics, and over 40 European non-governmental organisations. “This is not an attack on religion” explained Sophie in’t Veld, chair of the All-Party group. “It is a plea for equal treatment for all, both religious and non-religious alike”. (See note 3).
Welcoming the initiative, Baroness Helena Kennedy, a signatory, said: “I share all your concerns about the road we could be travelling down. I have had serious concerns about the erosion of the secular space and as a human rights lawyer think it is important to assert values which can be shared by all and not claimed as [exclusively] Christian.”
The Brussels Declaration was formally unveiled on Tuesday 27 February at the European Parliament, ahead of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
The Declaration is now open for signature by all European citizens at: www.avisionforeurope.org
See the website for versions of the Brussels Declaration in the following languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Dutch, Hungarian, Romanian, Greek, Latvian and Slovak. The website also contains a more detailed analysis and discussion of these values in: “A Secular Vision for Europe” (to which signatories to the Declaration are not necessarily committed in detail). The website also contains a full list of distinguished signatories to the Brussels Declaration.
For further information, please call:
Roy Brown, Coordinator, Committee for a Vision for Europe: +41 79 212 5603
David Pollock, President, European Humanist Federation: +44 7914 840 225
Elfrieda Harth, Catholics for a Free Choice: +32 478 888 260
We, the people of Europe, hereby affirm our common values. They are based not on a single culture or tradition but are founded in all of the cultures that make up modern Europe.
affirm the worth, dignity and autonomy of every
individual, and the right of everyone to the greatest possible
freedom compatible with the rights of others. We support
democracy, human rights and the rule of law,
and aim at the fullest possible development of every human
recognise our duty of care to all of humanity including
future generations, and our dependence on and responsibility
for the natural world.
affirm the equality of men and women. All persons regardless
of race, origin, religion or belief, language, gender, sexual
orientation, or ability must have equal treatment before the
affirm the right of everyone to adopt and follow a religion or
belief of their choosing. But the beliefs of any group may not
be used to limit the rights of others.
hold that the state must remain neutral in matters of
religion and belief, favouring none and discriminating against
hold that personal liberty must be combined with social
responsibility. We seek to create a fair society based on reason
and compassion, in which every citizen is enabled to play their full
uphold both tolerance and freedom of expression
We affirm the right of everyone to open and comprehensive education.
We reject intimidation, violence and incitement to violence in the furtherance of disputes, and hold that conflicts must be resolved through negotiation and by legal means.
We uphold freedom of inquiry in every sphere of human life, and the application of science in the service of human welfare. We seek to use science creatively, not destructively.
We uphold artistic freedom, value creativity and imagination, and recognise the transforming power of art. We affirm the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
Made this 25th day of March 2007, being the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and the foundation of the European Union.
Note 1: Examples from this week’s press reports of Islamic assertiveness include the publication of a 72-page book of “guidance for British schools” by the Muslim Council of Britain which explains the steps schools should take in order to “accommodate” their Muslim students. These steps include segregation of the sexes, that Muslim dress code should take precedence over a school’s own dress code, that schools restaurants should serve only halal meat, and an end to swimming, dancing and other activities. http://www.mcb.org.uk/article_detail.php?article=announcement-623
Meanwhile, in Germany, UPI reported that Islamic extremists have made death threats against the founder of an organisation for ex-Muslims.
2: For the intentions of the German presidency and the role of
the churches, see:
A. “We [she & the Pope] spoke about the role of Europe and I emphasised the need for a constitution and that it should refer to our Christian values,” she said. “I believe this treaty should be linked to Christianity and God because Christianity was decisive in the formation of Europe.” - http://www.eupolitix.com/EN/News/200608/49897b90-609f-465b-826b-2f48a5e07ab8.htm
B. The Roman Catholic newspaper The Universe reported on 22 December 2006: “European Catholic bishops have urged European Union officials to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage in a major declaration marking 50 years of European integration.
“For many founders, the Christian imprint on the European project has been an indisputable fact," said the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, known by the acronym COMECE, in a Dec.11 statement to EU officials. "For a majority of EU citizens, their Christian faith is the living source for their support of our common values and ambitions.”
The declaration, which will be published in March in Berlin, will be a "unique opportunity" for EU officials to "set out the values they share," the commission said.
C. Christianity Today reported on 23 January: “Last year, Merkel expressed her support for the “God clause” following her visit in August to Pope Benedict XVI. She said, “we need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way.” Now it seems Merkel is prepared to resurrect the debate over the inclusion of a reference to God. She told Focus magazine at the weekend, “Europe must continue to consider this issue.” -http://www.christiantoday.com/article/european.churches.push.for.eu.god.clause/9233.htm
Note 3: Many church leaders including Pope Benedict XVI (even before he became pope) and the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York have made statements attacking secularism as anti-religious, clearly failing to distinguish between state neutrality and hostility to religion, and failing to recognise that a secular state, i.e. a state which is neutral in matters of religion and belief, is the only guarantee of religious freedom for all.
Who are we?
The Vision for Europe Project is jointly sponsored by:
The International Humanist and Ethical Union. Based in London, IHEU is an international NGO with special consultative status with the UN (New York, Geneva, Vienna), general consultative Status at UNICEF (New York) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and maintains operational relations with UNESCO (Paris). With over 100 member organisations in over 40 countries, IHEU is the world union of Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, atheist and freethought organizations: www.iheu.org
Catholics for a Free Choice. CFFC is an NGO with special consultative status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being, and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make sound choices about their lives. Through discourse, education and advocacy, CFFC works in the United States, in Europe and internationally to infuse these values into public policy, community life, feminist analysis, and Catholic social thinking and teaching: www.catholics4choice.org
The European Humanist Federation. Based in Brussels, EHF-FEH, unites humanist organisations from many European countries, including Central Europe. Member organisations work in a variety of fields from development co-operation to the organisation of civil ceremonies, the representation of non-believers and the promotion of secular society. EHF-FEH works both within the institutions of the European Union and in society generally: www.humanism.be
The Vision for Europe project is also supported by the European Parliament All-Party Group on Religion and Politics.
Speakers at the launch of the Brussels Declaration, 27 February 2007
Sophie in’t Veld, MEP, is a Dutch member of the European parliament for the social-liberal party, D66, and chair of the All-Party Group on Religion and Politics.
Elfriede Harth (German, 1949) has been the European Representative of Catholics for a Free Choice since 2001.
Roy Brown (British, 1937) is an international representative and former president (2003 – 2006) of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
Committee for a Vision for Europe
Main Committee members
(president EHF), Georges Lienard (General Secretary EHF)
Sonja Eggerickx (president IHEU); Roy Brown (immediate past president IHEU)
Frances Kissling (outgoing president CFFC), Jon O’Brien (incoming president CFFC), Michelle Ringuette, Nina Miller and Elfrieda Harth (European Representatives CFFC)
Sophie in’t Veld MEP (Chair of the European Parliament All-Party Group on Religion and Politics).
Jeremy Gibbs of IHEU provides technical support to the project as consultant to the committee.
Secretary to the committee and project coordinator is Roy Brown
Editorial committee members
Ishtiaq Ahmed, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Stockholm, Sweden;
Matt Cherry, President, NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, UN, New York;
Paul Cliteur, Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Leiden, Netherlands;
Arnaud Dotezac, Human Rights Lawyer, France;
Michelle Ringuette, Program Officer, Catholics for a Free Choice;
Keith Porteous Wood, General Secretary, National Secular Society, UK;
Roy Brown, immediate past president IHEU, secretary to the committee.