Merkel backs more Christian EU constitution

Brussels, Belgium - Europe's "Christian values" should be enshrined in a new version of the EU constitution, the German chancellor declared yesterday after meeting the Pope.

In remarks which will reopen the debate on religion in the EU, Angela Merkel threw her weight behind Pope Benedict's campaign to recognise Europe's Christian heritage. "We spoke about freedom of religion," she said after talks at the Pope's summer residence near Rome. "We spoke about the role of Europe and I emphasised the need for a constitution and that it should refer to our Christian values."

Mrs Merkel will take charge of efforts to revive the constitution when Germany assumes the EU's rotating presidency next January. Any attempt to mention Christianity - or simply God - in the text will be met by stiff resistance from secular France, from Britain, which treads carefully in this area, and from northern Protestant countries such as Sweden and Denmark. During the tortuous negotiations on the constitution in 2004 there were concerns that any religious reference could upset Europe's Muslims and Jews.

But Mrs Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor, is determined to reopen the debate when she tries to revive the constitution, a controversial move in itself because many EU leaders want a slimmed down document after last year's no votes.

The chancellor is leader of the strongly Catholic CDU party whose most senior figure in Brussels is determined to include a reference to God in the new constitution. Hans-Gert Pöttering, currently leader of the EPP-ED group in the European parliament, is on course to become the assembly's president next year.