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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

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.

Letter on practical working of Article 17 TFEU to President of the European Council, Mr van Rompuy

Sophie in ‘t Veld has sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Mr. van Rompuy, to draw his attention on the treatment by the rotating Council Presidency of non-confessional organizations in its implementation of Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Due to the highly concerning current situation, MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld invited Mr. van Rompuy to remind the rotating Council Presidency about the letter and the spirit of Article 17 TFEU and the need to have it implemented in a fair and equal way so as to respect fundamental EU values of equality and non-discrimination.

——

Mr. Herman Van Rompuy
President of the European Council

Rue de la Loi 175

1048 Brussels

Brussels, 24th of June 2013

Re.: Practical working of Article 17 TFEU

Dear Mr President,

I would like to draw your attention on the treatment by the rotating Council Presidency of non-confessional organizations in its implementation of Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

As you know, Article 17 of TFEU states that European institutions must maintain an “open, transparent and regular” dialogue with churches and non-confessional organizations. Long before the Lisbon Treaty, rotating presidencies of the EU Council have been accustomed to meet with churches representatives. It was only since the Belgian presidency in 2010 that Humanists, via the European Humanist Federation (EHF), were invited separately to share their views with successive presidencies (with the exception of the Danish Presidency which decided to receive neither churches nor the EHF) ensuring thereby that Article 17 be implemented in a non-discriminatory way.

On 21 November 2012, the EHF wrote to the Irish Prime Minister in view of the coming Irish Presidency to draw his attention on the need to implement Article 17 in a fair and equal way, i.e. to receive the EHF if he planned to receive churches’ representatives. In a reply dated “December 2012″, his Office said that there was “no meeting planned” with religious groups but ensured that, in the event of a change on this position, EHF views “have been noted”.

On 8 March 2013, a churches delegation led by COMECE General Secretary Fr. Patrick Daly was received by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Dublin, on behalf of the Irish Council Presidency. On 14 March and 19 April, the EHF wrote again to the Irish Prime Minister to organize a meeting on the same footing. The Taoiseach Office eventually answered on 16 May 2013 that it was too late to meet the Irish Prime Minister in the framework of the Council Presidency and offered to meet a “senior official level”.

This situation is highly concerning since it shows a bias in favor of churches and a disrespect towards those millions of European non-believers. Article 17 TFEU must be implemented in a fair and equal way regarding religious and non-religious beliefs and this should not depend on the goodwill of the Member States holding the Presidency.

In a letter dated 9 November 2012, you ensured the European Humanist Federation that you attached a great importance to the EU dialogue with churches and non-confessional organizations. I therefore respectfully invite you to remind the rotating Council Presidency about the letter and the spirit of Article 17 TFEU and the need to have it implemented in a fair and equal way so as to respect fundamental EU values of equality and non-discrimination.

Yours sincerely,

Sophie in ‘t Veld

(MEP, ALDE/D66)

Cc: Mr. Enda Kenny, Irish Prime Minister;

Mr. Guy Verhofstadt,

Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament;

Mrs. Renate Weber, Member of the European Parliament, ALDE;

Mr. Michel Praet, member of the Cabinet of the President of the European Council.

EPPSP 18-06-13: Implementation of the Directive on equal treatment in employment. A focus on Germany.

Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, chair of the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP) cordially invites you to the Platform’s next lunchtime meeting:

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

 

Tuesday 18th of June 2013

12h30 – 14h00

European Parliament, PHS P1C051

 

The purpose of this meeting is 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.

During this platform meeting, we would like to shed light in specific on the case of Germany where the church is the second-biggest employer of the country.

 

Programme:

11h45    Accreditation at the entrance of Place Luxembourg

12h00    Lunch

12h30    Start of the event: welcome note and introduction of the panellists by Ms Sophie in ‘t Veld

 12h40    Introductory speeches

13h10    Debate among panellists and audience

13h55    Conclusions by Ms In ‘t Veld

14h00    End of the event 

More detailed information will follow soon.

 Please register and email your full name, ID no. and date of birth to Leonne van Vlimmeren – Sophie.intveld-office@europarl.europa.eu before the 14th of June. For those who have already confirmed their attendance, we took notice of your registration.

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