Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Buzek's speech at the "Platform for Secularism in Politics"

Brussels -
Wednesday 29/06/2011

Dear Madam Chairwoman In't Veld, Dear Colleagues, Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the implementation of Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty by the European Parliament.

The context of the Lisbon Treaty was an attempt to underline that the EU is first and foremost a community of values.

The rationale was to say that religion and philosophy play an important role in people's lives, and in society. Therefore, these are matters that the EU institutions need to take into account. I have two questions that we should address. My first is:

What is the role of the EU institutions in all this?

It is clear from the Treaty, that it is not our job to define a religion, a church or a philosophical organisation. This is a matter for national law.

We all know that there are many different models of, let us say, "Church-State" relations between our 27 Member States. And even different models within the same Member State!

In some cases, there is an official "State Church". That is one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum is the very strict idea of "laïcité" where religious symbols, or even dress, are forbidden in public buildings, even by private citizens.

As there is no "European Model", this allows the EU to develop its own way, its own approach. Of course, we must fully respect subsidiarity and the diversity of traditions and practices right across the Member States. Our EU motto is "united in diversity" and this diversity is what makes our Union strong.

However, one thing is absolutely clear and logical about the relations of the EU with all of these groups. If there is to be dialogue, in fact even a legal obligation for dialogue, then there can not be a "separation" of "Church and State". Nor can there be a separation of "Philosophy and State".

What do I mean by this? I prefer to use the term "autonomy". Churches, religions, philosophies, and other groups must all be autonomous. This means they should have full freedom in managing their own affairs.

The "state" - or in this case the EU institutions - must also be autonomous. In other words they do not take direction from any one group, philosophy, religion or world view.

But the EU is not "separate" from all these different organisations and the views they represent. The EU is the creation of its Member States and of its citizens. So it must actively engage with all parts of society if it wants to have legitimacy.

So, even if there is not a single EU model of "Church-State" relations, there is a common approach which is part of our values. This wise approach of mutual respect, each in its autonomous sphere of activity, is something that evolved over time.

For this common value, we are grateful both to Christianity and to the Enlightenment. From the beginning, the Bible advised us to "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give to God what belongs to God".

Our contemporary values have benefited from both of these strands. Religious freedom is intimately linked to freedom of thought, of conscience and of expression.

At the heart of this freedom is respect for human dignity. This is the core value which is highlighted in both the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

My second question is how to organise the Dialogue in Parliament?

The Parliament, and its Members and bodies, have been very active in such dialogue for a long time. One example is the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008 when the Parliament played a major role.

Many Parliament bodies, and individual Members, organise discussions, seminars and other events with key actors from such organisations. The initiative of Ms in't Veld and her colleagues is such an example.

But of course, Article 17, means that we as an institution must also organise more formal opportunities for consultation. From the start, I appointed one of my Vice Presidents (first Pál Schmitt, then Laszlo Tökés) to be an institutional contact point for groups covered by this dialogue.

Last month, I hosted a consultation seminar of Parliament's dialogue partners from churches and religious communities. Later this year, we will conduct a similar consultation with Europe's philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

I underlined that religion is not just a private and personal matter of freedom of individual conscience. It also has a public dimension because religious people are part of society. They have a right to let their values and beliefs shape their thinking and decision-making. The same applies to different philosophical views of the world.

Drawing from my own experience, and indeed that of Vice President Tökés, I would stress that freedom of conscience is a very personal freedom. It is a freedom that totalitarian regimes always fear.

So it should not be a surprise that in my country and in Central and Eastern Europe, Churches played such an important role in the fight for freedom, democracy and human dignity.

Based on these consultations, Vice President Tökés will try to draw conclusions about what various organisations demand from Parliament. My exchange of views here today is a further important part of that process.

One thing is clear to me though. Parliament must not impose its own vision of Article 17. We must consult all groups interested in the dialogue and see how best to take their proposals forward.

I am here to listen, and to see what steps Parliament needs to take to ensure that our dialogue is of the highest quality.

Thank You.


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