Inter-Orthodox Consultation on the Draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union

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The European Constitution was signed in October 2004, but was rejected in referendums by France and the Netherlands in 2005. After a two year period, on the 23rd of June 2007 the EU leaders agreed on a detailed mandate for a new Intergovernmental Conference. The task of this Intergovernmental Conference was to draw up a Reform Treaty by the end of 2007. The details of the 'Reform Treaty' still need to be agreed upon, with the Portuguese Presidency hoping to clinch an agreement in October 2007, however many parts of the original Constitution of 2004 are set to be included.

The Orthodox Church in Europe along with other european churches petitioned the Union for the inclusion of a clause recognizing Europe's Christian heritage, and this was included in the original treaty of 2004 (Article I-52), albeit in a modified form from the wording that the Inter-Orthodox consulatation had requested. It remains to be seen if this will be carried over into the 2007 treaty.

Conclusions of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation on the Draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union (Herakleion, Crete, 18–19 March 2003)

The undersigned representatives of European Orthodox Churches, gathered in Herakleion of Crete on the 18 and 19 of March 2003, on the invitation of His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and were hosted by the Holy Provincial Synod of the Church of Crete. The Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union, under His Eminence, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, was responsible for the organization of the Conference. Participants included representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Churches of Russia, Serbia, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, Czechia and Slovakia, and Finland, His Eminence Archbishop Timotheos of Crete and Metropolitans of the Church of Crete, His Excellency Professor of Constitutional Law Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Culture of the Hellenic Republic as key-note speaker, and a number of jurists and scholars. The proceedings of the Consultation were conducted under the chairmanship of the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, His Eminence Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia.

The topic of the consultation was: «The stance of the European Constitution towards the Churches and Religions proposed by the Orthodox Church» as posed in the Letter of Invitation of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos: «Hence, the agency in charge of composing and sanctioning the Constitution of Europe finds itself confronted with the need, a) to specify its position towards the internationally recognized religions and Churches, which include the Orthodox Church; b) to get itself or the member states of the European Union themselves to specify the criteria and the presuppositions of recognizing the rest of religions as religions and granting them or not the legal benefits that the dominant and traditional religions enjoy in the context of religious toleration, religious freedom and religious detachment of the state; and c) the criteria of classifying the destructive or criminal organizations which pretend to be religious in the same category and the general principles of dealing with them.»

The well-documented presentations, the constructive discussions and the emerging proposals confirmed the need of an Inter-Orthodox consultation on this important issue. The Conference concludes and proposes:

1. The Constitutional Treaty should include explicit reference to Europe’s Christian heritage, by means of which the principles and values of the biblical and Graeco-Roman tradition were perpetuated, which, with subsequent cultural elements constitute the foundations on which the modern European construct is founded.

2. The safeguarding of human rights which have been recognized by European and international conventions and declarations and were codified in the Charter of the Fundamental Human Rights, must continue to constitute internal law of the European Union.

3. Human rights must be safeguarded not only in their individual manifestation but also in the collective and institutional, such as rights and duties of the citizens of Europe: more specifically we would mention the sanctity and inviolability of the biotechnology knowledge and application, the protection of the institution of marriage and the family, and the focusing of education on the objective of these principles and values, etc.

4. Religious freedom must be safeguarded not only as an individual human right but also as the right of traditional Churches and Religions of Europe.

5. The 11 Declaration of the Treaty of Amsterdam on the status quo of the Churches and non-confessional religious unions must be incorporated in the Constitutional treaty to ensure that its pertinent provisions will not be violated by the legislation of the Member-States.

The formulation of the relevant provision of the constitutional treaty is proposed as follows:

«The European Union respects and does not prejudge the national law in each member state on the relation between State and Church and the internationally acknowledged principles of religious freedom for individuals and the churches.»

6. It is necessary to establish stringent criteria both in respect of the inclusion of sects in the framework of religious freedom, and of the legitimacy of their activity and their engagement in illicit proselytism within the Member – States of the union. The formulation of the pertinent provision is proposed as follows:

«The European Union, in the same manner, respects the status quo of philosophical and non-confessional unions, and acknowledges that the non-recognition by member-states of the aforementioned philosophical and non-confessional unions of the privileges that are recognized in respect of the Churches and Religions does not contravene the principle of religious toleration.»

Made in Herakleion of Crete, on 19 March 2003.

Actual Wording of the Draft Constituional Treaty of 2004

  • TITLE VI: The Democratic Life of the Union
  • Article I-52
  • Status of churches and non-confessional organisations

1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.

2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

3. Recognizing their identify and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

Why No Reference to God

In an official press release the Union answered various questions about the Constitution including the reason why the reference to God was not included in the final text of the Constitution:

"In some countries, the national constitution traditionally contains a reference to God. When the “Constitution for Europe” text was being drafted and negotiated, some governments said they wanted it to include a reference to God or to the Christian tradition of the Union. Others, defending the secular nature of the State and its neutrality with regard to different religions, didn’t want any specific religion to be named in the text of the European Constitution.

In its preamble, the Constitution recognises that the EU draws inspiration from Europe’s cultural, religious and humanist inheritance. This wording is neutral and appropriate. Indeed, any reference to individual religions could be seen as causing division between European citizens.

In addition, Article I-52 of the Constitution obliges the Union to engage in an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches and religious associations, just as it does with civil society.

Finally, the Charter of Fundamental Rights now enshrined in the Constitution lays down that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article II-70). (1)