What religion for the EU?

, by Alessio Pisanò

What religion for the EU?

The European Court of Human Right’s judgement on the crucifix in classrooms caused worries throughout Europe. But what is the matter with the EU? Is a “convivencia” still possible nowadays?

If you thought that religious wars and crusades were over then you are deeply mistaken. In the wake of the judgement of the European Court of Human Right concerning the crucifix in classrooms a plethora of protests has arisen, above all in the most catholic countries in the South and East of Europe. Euro-sceptics did not fail to take the opportunity to criticize the EU once again, quoting the alleged Christian origins of Europe as their justification.

The first aspect to point out is that the European Court of Human Rights is not a EU institution and must not be confused with the European Court of Justice, the highest court of the European Union. The ECHR is an international judicial body based in Strasbourg and established under the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. All 47 member states of the Council of Europe, which adopted the convention, are required to sign and ratify the Convention itself. The Court consists of a number of judges equal to the number of Contracting Parties, which currently stands at 47. Instead, the European Court of Justice, established in 1952 by the Treaty of Paris and based in Luxembourg, is charged with interpreting EU law and ensuring its equal application across all 27 EU member states.

The whole of Europe witnessed a decrease in theism between 1981 and 1999, both in countries with a strong theist tradition and in traditionally secular countries.

Taking this into account therefore, what about the EU and the ECHR? Currently all 27 EU states have subscribed to the ECHR convention, but the EU itself has not. This means that even if the EU institutions are bound to respect human rights under the Convention it does not carry jurisdiction on such a matter under current treaties. Nevertheless, after the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on the 1st of December 2009, the EU is expected to join.

This would make the Court of Justice bound by the judicial precedents of the Court of Human Rights and thus subject to its human rights law; this would resolve the issue of conflicting case law.

Following this explanation, a further fact must be stated: there has never been a better opportunity to resuscitate the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll which asked Europeans whether they believe “there is a god or not”. According to this poll, on average, only 52% of the EU citizens state that they believe in a god; 27% believe there is some sort of spirit or life force while 18% do not believe in any sort of spirit, god or life force; 3% declined to answer. Moreover, according to a 1999 survey run by the World Values Survey (an ongoing academic project by social scientists to assess the state of sociocultural, moral, religious and political values of different cultures around the world), the whole of Europe witnessed a decrease in theism between 1981 and 1999, both in countries with a strong theist tradition (Spain -5.7%, Ireland -1.1%) and in traditionally secular countries (Sweden -5.3%, France -5.7%, the Netherlands -7.3%).

Finally, Christianism is not the only religion in Europe. First of all, European Christians are divided into a large number of denominations (Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Protestantism). Secondly, other theisms are also represented: above all, the Muslim population accounts for between 4% and 7% of the population in France, 5.8% in the Netherlands, 5% in Denmark, just over 4% in Switzerland and Austria, and almost 3% in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, according the Anti-Semitism Summary overview of the situation in the European Union (EUMC) around 1 million Jews currently live in Europe.

Those who look to history to discover a common religious tradition that might bind the EU today would might want to remember Spanish history from year 711 to 1492, when Jews, Muslims and Catholics lived together in relative peace within the different kingdoms of the peninsula. It was a time of unparalleled religious tolerance. It was called “Convivencia” (Coexistence).

- Religion, source: google images


Your comments

  • On 14 December 2009 at 18:13, by Manu Replying to: What religion for the EU?

    that’s all very interesting, but what’s the point? I mean: it is a fine description of today’s religious situation in Europe, but does it try to demonstrate anything? Is there a federalist analysis of the situation?

    Besides, it is worth noticing that the article refers only to the recent ECHR decision on cricifixes in Italy, but not on the Swiss referendum, which may well be judged discriminatory as well by the Strasbourg court. Or the attempt of several French MPs to ban burqas from the streets...

    In a word: on reste sur sa faim.

  • On 3 September 2010 at 18:43, by Alessio Replying to: What religion for the EU?

    Dear Manu, I’d love to read an article on Swiss referendum and France situation. Please do it.

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