In today’s diverse Europe, many religions, beliefs and philosophical movements co-exist peacefully and the European institutions are committed to promoting tolerance and mutual respect as important characteristics of our society. The European Union is involved in an open dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations and the European Parliament actively contributes to these efforts.
Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, provides for the first time, a legal basis for an open, transparent and regular dialogue between the EU institutions and churches, religious associations, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations. It states:
While the first two paragraphs of this article provide for the safeguard of the special status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities, as well as of philosophical and non-confessional organisations enjoying a comparable status, Paragraph 3 calls on EU institutions to maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.
After being elected President in January 2017, Antonio Tajani assigned Vice-President Mairead McGuinness responsibility for implementing Article 17 dialogue. The Vice-President is assisted in this task by the secretariat of the Bureau and other relevant services of Parliament. Parliament hosts several high-level conferences each year, open to all dialogue partners, on topical and relevant themes connected with ongoing parliamentary work and debate.
2015 was marked by the terror attacks carried out in Paris, both in January and November, which has heightened levels of fear and distrust across Europe and the wider world at the threat now posed to open, free and tolerant societies by such violent and ideological extremists. The worrying rise in religious persecution, especially of Christian communities in the Middle East as a consequence of radical jihad, was also a determining feature in the discussions. The themes of last year's dialogue thus reflected such concerns and attempted to address the rise of radical fundamentalism and the role of religion in promoting tolerance and respect for human dignity (March) as well as the role of education in tackling it (November). An ad hoc event in December sought to shed some light specifically on Christian communities in many parts of the world which are under existential threat from extremists and persecuted, tortured or killed on a regular basis solely because of their faith.
"The European Parliament’s dialogue with churches and philosophical organisations is a very important element in keeping Parliament close to the citizens who elected us. So it is a great honour to have been put in charge of this dialogue by Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani.
If the European project is to retain the support of citizens, it must remain grounded in reality. Churches and faith groups are very much part of that everyday reality, part of the fabric of our communities across the cities, towns, villages and countryside of our 28 Member States.
The EU’s dialogue with faith groups has been very consciously provided for under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty. This sends a clear signal that the EU is far more than just an economic organisation; it is fundamentally about people, working together for their dignity, and for the common good. In shaping EU policies and laws, it is vital that in we take full account of every dimension of the human person – economic yes, but also social, and even spiritual.
Authentic human dignity must be at the heart of EU decision-making and it is my firm conviction that churches and philosophical organisations, with many centuries of reflection on the human condition, can make a major contribution in this process."