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Letter from the Co-Chairs of the EPPSP to EP President Schulz about the visit of the Pope to the European Parliament

Please find below a copy of the letter co-chairs of the EPPSP, Virginie Rozière and Sophie in ‘t Veld sent to President Schulz on the occassion of the Pope’s visit and speech in the Plenary session of the European Parliament today.

 

Dear President Schulz,

With the development of the European Union as a fully-fledged political union and parliamentary democracy, making policies in a wide range of policy areas, the ethical dimension of EU policies is rapidly becoming more important. More and more often EU policies present us with ethical choices and dilemmas. Therefore we wholeheartedly welcome an open, inclusive and transparent public debate on ethical issues and questions of fundamental rights. Our shared values have been laid down in the EU Treaties and the Charter on Fundamental Rights, but they will only truly materialize, if they are shaped in public debate, by the confrontation of ideas and convictions.

However, such a debate must represent the views of all European citizens, regardless of religion or belief. It should also be an open dialogue, not a monologue. The European Union was designed as a strictly secular project. EU institutions were never connected to a particular religion, but they serve all citizens equally. Secular public institutions do not restrict freedom of religion and belief, but on the contrary, it is a precondition for freedom. The Treaty of Lisbon included Article 17 on the open, transparent and regular dialogue of the EU institutions with churches, religious associations or communities as well as philosophical and non-confessional organizations. A balanced dialogue, no exceptions, no privileges.

We do not consider that a monologue by a religious leader in the EP hemicycle, the chamber where all citizens are represented, is the appropriate format for a dialogue on values. In the Hemicycle all 500 million European citizens should be represented equally – in all their diversity, regardless of religion or belief. All citizens must be equally able to make their voice heard in the debate. No law passed in favor of a confession can be tolerated. No personal choice can impede the pursuit of general interest.

Quoting the speech of Pope John Paul II addressing the European Parliament on 11 October 1988: “Dire qu’il revient à la communauté religieuse, et non à l’État, de gérer «ce qui est à Dieu», revient à poser une limite salutaire au pouvoir des hommes, et cette limite est celle du domaine de la conscience, des fins dernières, du sens ultime de l’existence, de l’ouverture sur l’absolu, de la tension vers un achèvement jamais atteint, qui stimule les efforts et inspire les choix justes. Toutes les familles de pensée de notre vieux continent devraient réfléchir à quelles sombres perspectives pourrait conduire l’exclusion de Dieu de la vie publique, de Dieu comme ultime instance de l’éthique et garantie suprême contre tous les abus du pouvoir de l’homme sur l’homme.”

This statement shows clearly the refusal to accept separation of church and state. The Catholic Church feels it has a right to interfere in civil matters and to impose its own moral views on others, rather than accepting and respecting diversity and freedom of conscience.

Instead of triggering a truly open and inclusive debate, this event will be divisive. We urge you to come forward on the shortest possible notice with proposals for a debate on values and ethical questions that truly represents all views, and allows for all voices to be heard equally.

Kind regards,

 

 

Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE – D66)

and Virginie Rozière (S&D – Parti radical de Gauche),

Co-chairs of the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics

Blog of Virginie Rozière

Please find below the blog of Ms. Virginie Rozière, in both English & French, the new Co-Chair of the EPPSP from the start of the 8th legislature of the European Parliament.

In this difficult period, at a time when community and religious tensions thrive, where the logic of identity affirmation is at work, we need secularism more than ever.

Questioning the right to abortion, opposing marriage for same-sex couples, challenging the principles of divorce or equality between women and men, pressures against scientific progress, that institutionalized right to debate about the general European interest… The opposition of religious ultra-conservative groups to universal and progressive developments in Europe is no longer acceptable!

The clash between Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 17 TFEU is a pure, simple, insidious and violent denial of the need for secularism in Europe: the first one proclaims freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the second one establishes a dialogue with faith-based organisations. Who can justify this unilateral right to interfere?

Member States must, once and for all, decide together to prevent purely religious reasons from influencing or impeding the decision-making mechanisms of their institutions. We cannot allow a sliding scale for Fundamental Rights. They can’t be subjected to social or political fluctuations, negotiated with a particular pressure group, nor presented differently depending on partisan interests.

It is time for the EU to adopt and implement a European definition of secularism. Secularism is not an obstacle to freedom, but the condition of its achievement. It is never directed against individuals or against their conscience, but it guarantees equal treatment for all and the equal dignity of all citizens. Because secularism implies to refuse all forms of intolerance and exclusion, it is the very basis of mutual respect and brotherhood.

Secularism is an essential and inviolable principle, a safeguard for living together peacefully. It is an actual way of organising society. It is not a belief, but a principle. Even several principles: State neutrality vis-à-vis all metaphysical considerations;  State independence from religions – and theirs from the State; freedom of conscience and religion, of judgment and criticism, absence of any formal religion or philosophy; the right to practice or not the religion of one’s choice, the right to pray or curse; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, a non-confesionnal public school.

Secularism helps to realise that freedom is the ethically – and politically – defined right to do everything which does not harm others; does not impair human dignity  safety of all and social harmony. It also helps to promote a common culture of respect, dialogue, mutual tolerance and consideration of others as equals, endowed with the same dignity and the same rights.

Secularim is fair, good and necessary; it allows us to live together despite our differences of opinions and beliefs. Leon Gambetta wrote: “We are not the enemies of religion, any religion. We are merely the advocates of the freedom of conscience, respectfull of all religious and philosophical views”.

Neutrality, independence, freedom. Three words. The essence of Secularism.

 

Dans cette période difficile, à l’heure où les tensions communautaires et religieuses prospèrent, où les logiques identitaires sont à l’œuvre, nous avons plus que jamais besoin de laïcité.

Remise en cause du droit à l’avortement, opposition au mariage pour les couples homosexuels, contestation du principe du divorce, de l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, pressions contre les avancées scientifiques, ou tout simplement droit institutionnalisé de se prononcer sur les débats concernant l’intérêt général européen … L’opposition de groupes ultra-conservateurs religieux aux avancées universelles et progressistes de l’Europe n’est plus tolérable !

Le choc entre l’article 9 de la Convention européenne de sauvegarde des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales et l’article 17 du TFUE est un déni pur, simple, insidieux mais violent de la nécessité de laïcité en Europe : le premier proclame la liberté de pensée, de conscience et de religion ; le second instaure un dialogue avec les organisations confessionnelles. Qui peut justifier ce droit d’ingérence unilatéral ?

Les Etats membres doivent, une bonne fois pour toute, décider ensemble d’empêcher les motifs purement religieux d’influencer, voire d’entraver, les mécanismes de prise de décision de leurs institutions. Les droits fondamentaux ne sont pas à géométrie variable. Ils ne peuvent être soumis aux fluctuations des contextes sociaux ou politiques, négociés avec tel ou tel groupe de pression, ou enfin présentés de manière différente en fonction d’intérêts partisans.

Il est temps que l’UE adopte et applique une définition européenne de la laïcité. La laïcité n’est pas une entrave à la liberté, mais la condition de sa réalisation. Elle n’est jamais dirigée contre les individus ni contre leur conscience, mais elle garantit l’égalité de traitement de tous et l’égale dignité de tous les citoyens. Refusant toutes les intolérances et toutes les exclusions, elle est le fondement du respect mutuel et de la fraternité.

La laïcité est  un principe essentiel et intangible garant du vivre ensemble. Elle est une organisation de la société, pas une conception du monde. Ce n’est pas une croyance mais un principe. Ou plusieurs : la neutralité de l’État vis-à-vis de toute métaphysique ; son indépendance par rapport aux religions et réciproquement l’indépendance des religions par rapport à lui ; la liberté de conscience et de culte, d’examen et de critique, l’absence de toute religion ou philosphie officielle ; le droit de pratiquer ou non la religion de son choix, le droit de prier ou de blasphémer ; et enfin, et peut être surtout, l’aspect non confessionnel de l’école publique.

Elle contribue à faire prendre conscience que la liberté est le droit éthiquement et politiquement réglé de faire tout ce qui ne nuit pas à autrui, ne porte pas atteinte à la dignité de la personne humaine, à la sécurité de tous et à la concorde sociale. Elle contribue à promouvoir une culture commune du respect, du dialogue, de la tolérance mutuelle et de la considération de tout autre comme semblable doté de la même dignité et des mêmes droits.

Juste, bonne, nécessaire, elle nous permet de vivre ensemble malgré nos différences d’opinions et de croyances. “Nous ne sommes pas les ennemis de la religion, d’aucune religion. Nous sommes au contraire les défenseurs de la liberté de conscience, respectueux de toutes les opinions religieuses et philosophiques” écrivait Léon Gambetta.

Neutralité, indépendance, liberté. Voilà en trois mots, l’essentiel de la laïcité.

Virginie Roziere, new Co-Chair of the EPPSP

Kick-off event EPPSP in the 8th legislature

Kick-off event EPPSP event 12th of November

This past Wednesday marked the kick-off of the EPPSP in the 8th legislature of the European Parliament. The event saw the introduction of 6 key focus points on which the EPPSP is going to concentrate in the current legislature with renewed vigour. During the event, Chair of the EPPSP Sophie in ‘t Veld welcomed the new Co-Chair of the EPPSP, Virginie Rozière, a French Member of the European Parliament and a member of the S&D Group. The meeting provided a platform for a vivid discussion regarding the future plans of the EPPSP and the state of secularism in the European institutions.

Sophie in ‘t Veld & Virginie Rozière presented 5 topics that will guide the efforts of the EPPSP in the coming legislature. The topics are broad, but throughout the legislature more specific topics, that are connected to these topics, will be raised. The EPPSP will try to promote secularism in the following EU policy areas:

1.Health & Bioethics

Health is often an ideological battlefield, especially concerning stem cell and genetic research; sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the end of life.

. Freedom
Freedom of religion and belief;
Freedom of expression;

3. Equality
Equal treatment for all and non-discrimination on all grounds;
4. Education

Education on the basis of the values in the EU Treaties, in full respect of fundamental rights and without prejudice;

5. External policies
Include the promotion of fundamental rights and freedom of religion and belief explicitly in EU external policies;

Besides these focuses the Platform will also keep trying to ensure the secular nature of the EU institutions. These institutions should serve all citizens equally, regardless of their religion or beliefs. The impartiality must also be expressed in the internal organisation of the institutions. These ambitions are lofty but together with the Vice-Chairs of the EPPSP, Sophie in ‘t Veld will strive to make great strides in all the aforementioned fields. However, these objectives cannot be reached without an efficient and effective mobilisation of the secular voice by the EPPSP. The European secular network that exists needs to  strengthened and expanded in order for a secular European voice to flourish.

Please keep following this website as well as the Twitter accounts of the EPPSP, D66 Europe, Sophie in ‘t Veld & Virginie Rozière  to stay updated of events to come in the future.

Complaint to the European Ombudsman on the composition of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies

A complaint lodged by the Association Européenne de la Pensée Libre – Europe against the European Commission in 2012 with regard to the composition of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE). The task of the EGE shall be to advise the Commission on ethical questions relating to sciences and new technologies, either at the request of the Commission or on its own initiative.

The complaint was made up out of two parts:

1) The Commission failed to ensure tha the EGE, in its current composition, is and independent and pluralist body.

2) The Commission should ensure that the criteria used to appoint the members of the EGE are not discriminatory and do not lead to the over-representation of specific religious groups, or religious groups in general.

The decision of the European Ombudsman can be found here. The Ombudsman was of the opinion that the complaint was unfounded and that no maladministration has been found in the present case.

In a response to the decision, lodger of the complaint Alan Frommer, President of the Association Européenne de la Pensée Libre-Europe, state the following: ”

We have decided to accept the Mediator’s decision, as no appeal is possible, and to concentrate on influencing the future composition of the EGE so that it is properly balanced between god-believers and secular persons.

We may have lost this battle on a formal basis but we think that we have won a political battle given the remark of the Mediator about the future criteria for the EGE and especially the invitation for secular persons to present their candidacy. We think that, thanks to our complaint, no matter who is the future president of the European Commission, we have made it impossible to designate an EGE in which the views of the secular movement is not strongly represented.

We have already started work on finding highly qualified experts who are also secular as candidates for the next EGE, which will start work in 2016. The call for candidates will commence at the start of 2015. We call on our all members to help find credible candidates. We will shortly send you a communication about the necessary criteria for being a candidate.

In the next nine months we have to find the candidates who will express our view of the world in the EGE.”

 

Implementation of the Directive on equal treatment in employment. A focus on Germany.

On the 18th of June, the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics took place. This time the Platform dealt with the implementation of the Directive on equal treatment in employment. Moreover, light was shed in specific on the case of Germany, given that the church is the second largest employer in Germany.

The purpose of the meeting was to get better insight into the implementation of the Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation and its challenges. Although there is EU-wide protection against discrimination in employment, people view themselves frequently discriminated in this area. Moreover, due to the financial and structural crisis in Europe, the level of unemployment among many groups, in particular young people, including those with disabilities, and older people is increasing.

Mr Stein, Head of Unit of DG Justice of the European Commission, spoke at first and gave an in-depth description of the wording and functioning of the Directive. In specific paragraph 2 of article 4 received attention, since this paragraph gives churches the possibility to have flexibility without having an autonomous position. Mr Stein also explained that several infringements have occurred in a few Member States because of the wording in the national law that was not completely in line with the Directive on European level.

According to Ms Corinna Gekeler who released the study “Loyal dienen” (Serving Loyal), sponsored by the International League Of Non-Religious And Atheists (IBKA), this infringement also takes place in Germany. Germany did not succeed to transpose the Directive on several points and the national law became thereby too vague. Ms Gekelers´opinion is that the churches and politicians should acknowledge more that this current interpretation of the national constitutional law has discriminative tendencies.

Mr Twardy, head of Collective Bargaining of the labour association for doctors in Germany, the Marburger Bund, explained that there are at the moment 1.2 million people employed by the church in Germany. Caritas with about 435 institutes and Diakonie with about 220 institutes, control together a major part onthe German health care system job market According to Mr Twardy, the current situation of the health care in Germany is unconstitutional and has a lack of social pacification competition.

Former German MP and current spokesperson of the Campaign against religious discrimination on the workplace (GerDiA), Ms Matthäus-Maier, added to the presentation that a job position that origins in the ecclesiastical labour law brings along that the employee needs to be loyal to the church both in private and work-related spheres and that he or she is for example not allowed to leave the church.

Ms Matthäus-Maier gave a few examples of cases to thereby illustrate the current situation in Germany. Homosexual people must not show their sexual orientation because they run the risk of a dismissal. So a lesbian women that has a child, did not receive the rights under the ecclesiastical labour law to have the child related holidays as a heterosexual family would get. At German Universities, students that are not member of a church, are sometimes advised not to start with studying Medicine or social work, since they will have a fairly small chance to eventually find a job within the German health care system. Besides, it is often shown that for example Muslim nurses (also every member of an “non-Christian” religion) are having a harder time to find a job than Christian nurses, due to these ecclesiastical labour regulations.

Concluding remarks of the speakers showed that there is need to have more cases in this specific area, that more attention, education and publicity on this matter is necessary to receive more support for change and that the European Commission should step up more clearly and strongly to resolve the problems that come along with the flexibility that is given to Churches in the Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation on both national and European level.