Ungodly Ways: The Dark Side of the European Union

Look at this stone. It has been lying in this water for a very long time, but the water has not penetrated it…. The same thing has happened to men in Europe. For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated, Christ does not live within them. —Cardinal Lamberto, The Godfather III

The fictional cardinal understood well the spiritual roots of the crisis in modern Europe. Today, while the continent struggles to complete its integration project of 50 years, new cracks are showing—divisions that may fracture its fragile unity.

Of course, that unity is already severely strained over issues of sovereignty and a “common voice” on foreign policy. Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, remarked, “One of the few plus points in the Iraq crisis is that it is forcing us to talk honestly about the very essence of the Union.”

The tension between member nations of the European Union (EU) was painfully apparent during the Iraq conflict when Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi, and Jose Maria Aznar adhered to their Atlantic alliance rather than bow before the Franco-German power axis within the EU. Jacques Chirac publicly thumped Eastern European leaders who signed a letter supporting U.S. intervention in Iraq, telling them they “missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.”

The French president’s open threat to nations that have applied for EU membership underscored the fault line between what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called Old and New Europe: “Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible to sign that letter…. If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe, they could not have found a better way,” Chirac snapped.

But that public rift occurred in the midst of the growing European division over another, much larger issue: whether or not God and Christian heritage have any place in the Future Europe.

Religion and Politics

Much of the debate over God is now focused in the Convention on the Future of Europe, convened by the EU in early 2002 and chaired by former French Prime Minister Valery Giscard d’Estaing. The convention’s main task, after listening to European citizens and civil society organizations, is to craft a constitutional treaty that would give Europe—as a whole—a new identity. The problem is, there’s no agreement on just what a corporate “European identity” might be. All the usual debates are there: cloning, euthanasia, legal homosexual unions, abortion, and child rights/parental rights. But the more fundamental question raised by uneasy Christian groups is whether a new European identity will marginalize the faith that gave birth to Western civilization.

While the convention aims at complete political, legal, and social integration, the project has drawn sharp criticism from those who note that Europe, unlike the United States at its founding, is trying to absorb diverse religions, cultures, languages, political systems, and histories. A tall task indeed. And the devil in the demographics is sure to bring wrenching upheavals in European society in the very near term.

Currently, while the nations of the EU are bound together by treaties covering economic and political cooperation, each of the 15 member states retains sovereignty. But this may soon change. The loose arrangement of cooperation has moved steadily toward a European superstate where national powers are gradually ceded to a central government. In 1992 the Maastricht Treaty created the current legal structure that converted the European Economic Community into the EU with shared legal and political systems. And now, the proposed constitutional treaty would complete the 50-year march toward federalism.

Pundits describe the opposing sides of the project as “Euro-skeptics” who prefer to retain national sovereignty and “Euro-fanatics” who view a single nation of 370 million as a sure guarantee of international power and influence. Giscard is fond of comparing his convention to Philadelphia in 1787 where the Founding Fathers hammered out the Constitution of the United States of America. Indeed, among the names suggested for the new entity is the United States of Europe.

The 105 delegates to the convention have wrestled over key areas of the draft, among them the “social values” of the EU. Pope John Paul II has pleaded for the recognition that as a “new institutional order, Europe cannot deny its Christian heritage, since a great part of its achievements in the fields of law, art, literature and philosophy have been influenced by the evangelical message.” The Vatican has not asked for a reference to Catholicism. Instead, the pope called for a strong reference to Europe’s Christian roots in the preamble, but secular forces have blocked that effort thus far.

This is the source of unease for some. Within the EU governing bodies, the European People’s Party and the Christian Democrats as well as some Italian politicians from both the left and the right are working to include a reference to Christian heritage. Professor Janne Haaland Matlary, a former secretary for foreign affairs of Norway and a member of the Christian Democratic Party, observed, “In Europe, politics is secular, and it is seen as very inappropriate to mention God in any political setting, hence the major shock at hearing the Bush speech—and other American voices—who routinely mention God and America.” Matlary was “not too optimistic” that the parties could achieve a reference to God in the constitution.

In May 2002, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) produced an initial contribution for consideration by the convention. It called for the constitution to honor an openness to God and “recognize all dimensions of religious freedom, individual, collective, and institutional in the member states and at the EU level.” The COMECE paper stresses that “protection of human rights is a major achievement of modern constitutionalism, supported and promoted by the social teachings of the Catholic Church.”

And in January 2003, the Holy Father added that “all the Christian churches have urged those drawing up the future constitutional treaty…to include a reference to churches and religious institutions.” The pope called on Giscard to include a “clear reference to God and the Christian faith” to ((cement the extraordinary religious, cultural, and civic heritage that has made Europe great down the centuries.”

Many religious leaders joined the Holy Father, including Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk of the Russian Orthodox Church. His letter to the convention emphasized that the values delegates adopted for the constitution would become the very foundation for the domestic life of all European peoples and their relations with neighboring countries.

Likewise, Rabbi Aba Dunner, secretary general of the Conference of European Rabbis, stated, “I would love to see the word ‘God’ in there, in some form or another?’ But critics who argue that a Judeo-Christian reference doesn’t resonate with secular Europe point to another problem: What of the Muslim populations in Europe? Turkey, a candidate nation for future EU expansion, is among those who object to any religious references. “We are a secular country,” said a Turkish diplomat in Brussels. “Our constitution is secular. Every organization which we will be in—or should be in—must be secular.”

The opposition to any reference to God or Christianity is substantial. A Czech parliamentarian, Jan Zahradil, scoffed at the idea, saying it was “stupid” and sure to disrupt procedures. More diplomatically, Giscard also doubted that an explicit mention of God would be allowed in the draft document. Not surprisingly, the convention negotiations were rancorous.

Finally, after months in session, the convention announced in February 2003 that all references to Divinity in Article 2 (on the values of the EU) of the draft would be removed. A Vatican spokesman denounced that decision as “completely unsatisfactory” because it ignored “the explicit desires of a great part of Europe’s peoples.”

The organization Christians for Europe, a permanent convention of politicians, diplomats, academics, and lay professionals, also submitted a report to the convention. On the disputed article, it offered, “In Article 2, concerned with the Union’s values, reference is made to human dignity, freedom, democracy, the state of law, human rights, tolerance, justice and solidarity. This seems very good to us, but there are concepts missing, which are also real European values that should be mentioned…defense of the family, subsidiarity, and the social—not just individual—dimension of human rights.”

Christians for Europe concluded its submission with a warning: “We wish to remind the political power that the civil and political sphere is independent of the ecclesiastical sphere, but not of the moral sphere. When political power gives up the moral sphere, civil coexistence pays for it.”

The Devil in the Details

Christian members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and religious leaders fear that a constitution that does not recognize the Judeo-Christian foundation of European identity is in fact a threat to Europe itself. Part of that fear stems from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, set to become a “first pillar of the constitution.” The charter, similar to a Bill of Rights, is considered by many to be flawed and dangerous. While it isn’t yet legally binding, if the constitution is ratified, the charter becomes European law. And because the charter is a “lowest common denominator” approach, critics understand that its practical effect is to reduce rights at the national level. In other words, the anti-God policies of the EU would become law in all the member nations…even those that still retain some fidelity to Christianity.

This sobering reality is illustrated by the current negotiations between Poland and the EU. Poland is a candidate nation seeking admittance to the EU without having to give up its legal protection for the unborn at the national level. As it stands now, Poland’s pro-life laws could be overturned by EU mandate.

But Poland isn’t alone in fearing for its sovereignty. Consider the recent skirmish between an incensed Greek government and the European Parliament and courts. The court examined a Greek provision that permits the monks of Mount Athos to remain a men-only monastic island, as it has been since 1045. The court officially pronounced the ban on women a violation of human rights. The parliament passed a resolution that judged any exclusion of women at Mount Athos to be in violation of community nondiscrimination and gender equality legislation, as well as the provisions relating to free movement of persons within the EU. The Greek government angrily responded by reminding the court and the parliament that when Greece joined the EU, protection of the monastic community was part of its accession treaty. Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos compared the all-male situation at Mount Athos to the Vatican—a city-state—represented by men alone.

Yet, the very fact that a nation must negotiate a prenuptial agreement before joining the EU in order to preserve its cultural identity and the sanctity of life reveals the peril that awaits any rights not so well-preserved in advance. With the advent of the charter, EU-imposed laws will gather speed as the feminist and homosexual lobbies press for harmonized “family policies” throughout Europe. Matlary warns, “Homosexual ‘family rights’ are introduced in state after state, and as marriage becomes very rare, cohabitation the main arrangement, everything to do with our notions of family disappears.”

Wolfhart Pannenberg, professor of systematic theology at the University of Munich, agrees. “The traditional understanding of family has taken severe hits. Article 6 of the [German] Constitution provided very particular protections for marriage and family life, but last year the highest court declined to overrule new legislation that gives equal status to alternative forms of living together.”

In 1999 a Swedish finance minister explained to journalists at a UN conference why economics would force governments to standardize family policies. “If a multinational corporation employs a Dutch petroleum engineer who is one partner in a legal same-sex union, when the corporation transfers the engineer to an office in another country, what happens to the union? You see, globalization will bring harmonization of commercial codes and social policies.”

COMECE, in its paper submitted to the convention, diplomatically praised the charter, then quickly raised a red flag over important “ambiguities in the text of the Charter, especially with regard to cloning, marriage and family, religious liberty, education, and social rights….” Nonetheless, to the great disappointment of many knowledgeable negotiators, COMECE declared the inclusion of the charter to be “appropriate in a constitutional framework.” A constitutional lawyer reading the COMECE text gulped, “Is that all? The charter is ‘ambiguous’ on the main facets of Christian life and teaching, but we can live with it?”

Just as “the world is different after September 11,” the European corollary is “negotiating treaties is different since the UN’s decade of conferences (Cairo, Beijing, Rights of the Child and Sustainable Development) and Resolution 1441.” Seasoned negotiators stung too often by words assumed to mean what they say, now look with suspicion on phrases in the charter such as “human dignity.” John M. Klink, a former senior negotiator for the Holy See Mission to the UN and a private adviser to the Bush administration’s delegation to UN conferences, points out that “human dignity” could easily be interpreted to mean “death with dignity.”

The veteran negotiator is familiar with EU tactics: “The EU tried to use the UN to effect its [antifamily] policies, particularly under the Clinton administration.” During debates for the International Criminal Court, the pro-life constitution of Ireland helped to stop use of the term “forced pregnancy” as a warrant for abortion. “Ireland could not go beyond its constitution—there was no European consensus,” Klink recalled. In a world increasingly bound by international law and international institutions, the constitutions of individual nations are of immense value.

But Klink poses an additional question: “If Europe becomes a federated United Europe, does that mean there will be just one voice, one vote for all of Europe at the United Nations?” A U.S. state department source admits that the United States is watching that development closely: “If Europe tries to keep all the nations’ seats after federating, then the U.S. should have a seat at the UN for all 50 states of the United States.”

Klink notes that Article 3 of the European Charter of Rights grants the “right to physical and mental integrity, but what does that mean? Does it mean a woman can have an abortion because otherwise her ‘physical or mental integrity’ is compromised? These are terms that must be defined now. Otherwise the courts will interpret them. Almost every European nation’s constitution protects the family, but very simply, the charter gives the EU broader control over social policies at the national level.”

Richard G. Wilkins, professor of law at Brigham Young University, agrees. Though the charter is supposed to observe the principle of subsidiarity, it “provides, at best, a weak protection for the unique constitutional traditions of EU member states.” Wilkins draws a parallel between the charter and the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was intended to “safeguard state governments from federal encroachment” but that “has not prevented the U.S. legislature and United States courts from expanding their power.” Wilkins is not optimistic: “Comparative constitutional history suggests that once broad central powers are created, it is quite difficult to retain the vibrancy of the unique legal voices and constitutional experiences of the constituent states within a federal system.”

A European Leviathan

So, what is the EU understanding of the proper relationship of fundamental rights to the state? Can government be the source of human rights without reference to a higher authority? If so, then government may change the content of human rights when faced with political pressure. According to Wilkins, nations that understand the source of fundamental rights in a different way than the EU are especially at risk: “Ireland—to name but one member of the union—regards fundamental rights as anterior and superior to all positive law. Under the Irish view fundamental rights and hence, human rights—are not created by positive law…. Under this view natural law supercedes positive or man-made law…. Therefore, unless the European Parliament clarifies whether or not the charter is meant to supercede Ireland’s natural law jurisprudence, the charter may be invoked by litigants to upset entirely a member state’s centuries-old legal tradition.”

Wilkins also shares some of John Klink’s concerns. Article 1 and Article 3 of the charter declare that “human dignity is inviolable” and “physical and mental integrity” must be protected. “This language provides substantial support to litigants in the European Union who wish to establish judicially created rights to abortion on demand and assisted suicide?’ Wilkins says. “The impact of the charter upon the domestic law of the member states of the EU is hard to understate.”

The draft Constitutional Treaty for Europe is due to be presented to European governmental bodies in Thessalonika, Greece, on June 20, 2003. If accepted by the European Com-mission, it will be sent to the nations for ratification.

Unrest Among Europeans

European citizens at large have not asked for a federal state, though polls show that they favor their European as well as their national identities. However, they may not know the whole story. In an EU-commissioned poll, only 28 percent of European citizens had ever heard of the convention or knew of its goal to draft a constitution for all of Europe.

This fact is a source of great dismay for conservative and liberal politicians who have a loose coalition against the murky process. Dana Rosemary Scallon, an independent Irish MEP, described the deliberate effort to prevent a truly democratic approach to the constitutional process:

From the very beginning, [the Treaty of] Nice was an attempt to establish a political Europe with its own government. But the people weren’t told that. The media presented the treaty as necessary for expansion, and the Irish government—who knew it meant a political Europe—didn’t state that plainly. The treaty was about reducing our sovereignty and independence. Our constitution protects life and the family. The European constitution will take precedence over our own Irish constitution. There has been no informed political debate.

Jens-Peter Bonde, a Danish MEP who objects to the proposed constitution, notes, “I am strongly against Giscard’s draft constitution because [an identity for the] European people is lacking—and because there is still no democracy in the draft constitution.”

Bonde also worries that an EU constitution will give the EU government control over churches. “Without clear and specific rules,” he said, “churches will be governed by EU principles…. Laws against abortion can be seen as a limitation on the right to deliver services…. If abortion shall be allowed in Ireland and other countries, it should be decided by the Irish electorate, not by a court verdict or ‘incentive measures’ decided by a qualified majority in the [European] Council.”

Scores of sovereignty issues have been raised…and ignored. “Few of our people really understand that sovereignty is what stands between our religious freedom and a crushing, atheistic bureaucracy in Brussels,” noted an Irish priest visiting the United States. “Sadly some of our bishops don’t see the danger. For most of them it’s always about ensuring peace and preventing another European war.”

But the priest sees dark days ahead. “First Brussels will remove our independence, then they will give us mandatory abortion and euthanasia and homosexual ‘unions: These things are already part of law, don’t you see, in certain countries of Europe. And that is all seen as enlightened and touted as Europe’s commitment to ‘equality and justice.’ But without our sovereignty—we will be powerless to resist.”

Cheerleaders for a United Europe

Powerful elements within Europe have pushed forward their dream of a United States of Europe where “pooled sovereignty” substitutes for self-determination. The constitution creates, in effect, a “Mr. Europe” that will dramatically diminish the stature of the presidents of the individual countries.

This is good news for those who consider Europe a player in global governance. “Europe is in demand,” claims Javier Solana, the European High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. Noting a major new adjustment on the geopolitical stage, Solana believes that Europe’s destiny is to fill the vacuum left behind by the implosion of the Soviet Union. “The question is not whether we play a global role, but how we play that role…. Responsibility for the fate of the planet” calls for a more “effective Europe.”

Solana hopes to sideline the foreign policy of every European nation by drawing all foreign policy decisions into a single office for the whole of the EU. Of course, the new Europe will be allergic to unilateralism on both sides of the Atlantic. If a federal constitution is adopted, Europe, old and new, will speak with one voice. Once a common foreign policy is adopted, it will no longer be possible for nations—like Britain and Spain—to differ from Brussels, as they did with the recent Iraq conflict.

Sadly, the Vatican itself may have fallen prey to the enthusiasm over the EU. Michal Semin of the Oblansky Institute in Prague was one of the few willing to go on record saying, “With all respect to our Holy Father, he seems to be more optimistic over the EU expansion than realism dictates. His concern for [the] unity of mankind does not always fully respect the fact that the foundations of a given project are debatable…. Unfortunately, the Holy Father’s basic agreement with the process of building a European superstate is utilized by the Czech progressive bishops who campaign—in the churches—for the entrance. They have published a brochure where they disregard all the moral concerns (abortion, euthanasia, etc.). At the same moment, a bishop in Prague forbade the priests to allow petitions in the churches against abortion, euthanasia, and related evils on the grounds that this could complicate the upcoming referendum on the EU.”

Persecution Ahead?

Integrating 25 nations of varying economic strengths, religions, and cultural heritage into a single harmonized union is a challenge for the collective gods of secularism. Leading this “No God!” squad are leftist parties, gay and abortion rights lobbies, and Catholic dissidents—all veterans of the anti-life battles at the UN.

Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), an anti-Catholic abortion lobby with affiliates in Europe and Latin America, objects routinely to the influence of religion in the public square. CFFC held a seminar with Swedish parliamentarians in October 2002 to examine the influence of “religious institutions [that are] increasingly interested in participating in policy debates within Europe—even as the positions of some religious institutions are at odds with the values that form a European consensus on critical social issues. This is particularly relevant for women’s rights, gay rights, sexuality and reproductive rights.”

CFFC denounces the Catholic Church because, in its view, the “Holy See misuses its special status to build real obstacles to the promotion of women’s health and well-being.” CFFC and its followers are working overtime to diminish the participation of the Holy See in the discussion about the future of Europe—which gives the lie to any notion of “consensus,” since the Church surely represents more voices than the dissident CFFC. Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, wants to have the Holy See demoted at the UN and is “increasingly concerned that the Vatican is seeking similar privileges and power within the European Union.”

Ulla Sandbaek, MEP, elected by the June Movement Group for a Europe of Democracies and Diversities, welcomes the assistance of Kissling and the CFFC as a foil against the European bishops. Sandbaek is author of the Sandbaek Report, a document adopted by the European Parliament that amends EU regulations on development aid to include abortion services. The bishops responded, “We are deeply concerned that funds from the EU budget might be used for abortion services under this regulation.” But despite their protest, the regulation stands and Catholic nations with constitutions that protect life are forced to comply.

Sadly, these legislative attacks on morality are now occurring throughout Europe. The political savvy of “diversity” groups far outstrips the organized attempts by those who are pro-family and pro-sovereignty. The European Parliament itself endangered freedom of religious practice when it adopted a report titled, “Women and Fundamentalism.” The 2002 document is a stealth attack on traditional Christian teachings, sandwiched between the plight of Afghani women and a near-comical caricature of fundamentalists. The report criticized the Catholic ban on women’s ordination and the European attitude toward lesbians—all with a view to convince politicians, civil servants, and the public of the need for the government to monitor religious activities.

The alarming report further denounces those who “believe themselves to be in possession of the truth” and attacks religious communities that “assume powers which belong to the public sector, they operate de facto in opposition to the democratic rule of law in the EU.” While the document does not have the force of law, its acceptance by the European Parliament indicates “the gathering wind of persecution blowing through European institutions,” observed a member of a working group within the convention. “They gradually build up these reports and documents until it seems there is a ‘consensus’ that Europeans must control religious activities for the sake of ‘peace’ throughout the regions.”

The Dark Side of the European Union

Ambitious politicians, willing to sacrifice national sovereignty for a more powerful European state, are embracing anti-Christian policies in the name of inclusiveness and tolerance. At stake are democratic self-determination for nations and traditional cultural values and legal freedoms for Christians and others to practice their faith in peace and security.

The sweeping secularism of modern-day Europe has already led to serious confrontations with Christians, particularly Catholics. From prohibiting schools from serving hot cross buns (it might offend non-Christians) to European rules requiring churches to employ atheists (or be in violation of antidiscrimination laws) to an outrageous resolution entertained by the European Parliament denouncing the Catholic Church for gender bias, examples abound.

If the constitution is accepted, the centralizing power of the EU will threaten the national laws of all member countries. Some European nations have constitutions that acknowledge God, protect life, and defend the family. Others do not. Without an explicit reference to God and the Christian heritage of Europe—as religious leaders have requested—the proposed constitution will lack a vital framework for interpreting human rights, family law, and traditional values.

And perhaps that’s exactly the point.


  • Mary Jo Anderson

    Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers Press, 2005).

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