Europe asks whether it has a place for God
February 8 2003
It makes a change from the normal diet of farm subsidies, eurozone deficit rules and waste directives. But talks about God and His place in the scheme of things, federal or otherwise, are not easy.
Thus it was, in the profoundly unspiritual setting of the European Union's bunker-like Council of Ministers building, that 13 worthy Europeans this week began to debate whether divinity of any kind merits a mention in the union's future constitution.
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, was in the chair to discuss article two of the draft treaty relating to the values and beliefs of an EU of 25 members.
No theologians were involved, but the 13-strong presidium of the convention includes former prime ministers from Italy, Belgium and Ireland who are all well qualified to debate this divisive issue.
Views about God's place in Europe's constitution matter greatly to countries with strong religious traditions, but doubting governments are mindful of the continent's 10million Muslims and other religious minorities. They want to keep the Lord out of the European project, favouring a form of words that refers to universal values.
Religious and secular groups have made submissions to the 105-member convention. Some of the latter have pointed out that in Europe's bitterest struggles those who have claimed that God was on their side have not always been on the side of the angels.
"Many of our values were forged against the church," observed the Spanish socialist Josep Borrell Fontelles, "and when it comes to democracy, the rights of man and equality, God is only a recent convert."
Even the Pope has become involved, calling for a "clear reference to God and the Christian faith".
Unusually for Brussels, compromise seems unlikely.
"Putting God into the constitution is simply in the 'too difficult to agree category'," one diplomat said. "Therefore there will probably be nothing."