European churches revive drive for EU 'God clause'

Paris, France - Germany's efforts to revive the stalled European constitution have encouraged church leaders to resurrect their failed campaign to have the EU document include a reference to the continent's Christian heritage.

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Catholic and Protestant prelates, especially in Germany, have stepped up calls to Chancellor Angela Merkel -- a pastor's daughter who personally favours the "God clause" -- to stand up for it during Berlin's current six-month EU presidency.

Merkel nodded in their direction at the weekend, telling Focus magazine: "Europe must continue to consider this issue."

But the EU hardly seems likely to go beyond the reference in the draft to Europe's "cultural, religious and humanist heritage" agreed on in 2004 after a high-profile campaign by the Vatican and traditionally Catholic countries.

"When European leaders are grasping around to eke out some form of unifying statement on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, they will not wish to put any new dividers in," said Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform in London.

One EU ambassador in Brussels agreed: "There is no chance whatsoever of reopening that debate." The 2004 draft was rejected by referendums in the Netherlands and in France, the leading opponent of any religious reference in the document.

The most the churches could hope for, Brady said, is a clearer reference to religion in a declaration that EU leaders will issue in Berlin on March 25, the 50th anniversary of the EU's founding Treaty of Rome. But even that is doubtful.


Catholic cardinals and archbishops have led the campaign, starting with a statement from their Brussels-based Commission of Bishops' Conference of the European Community suggesting the Berlin Declaration mention Christianity among Europe's roots.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German Catholic bishops conference, and Munich's Cardinal Friedrich Wetter have spoken out this month for a mention of faith among Europe's roots. "We don't want a God-less state and a God-less Europe," Wetter said.

In Portugal, Lisbon Cardinal Jose Policarpo said "it would be a cultural disgrace and ignorant not to mention Europe's Judeo-Christian past in the prologue to a future treaty."

The Evangelical Church in Germany, one of Europe's leading Protestant churches, said it "continues to stand for the inclusion of a clear reference to our responsibility before God and the importance of the Judeo-Christian tradition."

German-born Pope Benedict has not taken the same leading role in the Catholic campaign as his Polish-born predecessor did when the constitution was drafted. "His stance on Europe is more nuanced than the idealism of Pope John Paul," Brady said.

The EU was unlikely to accept a reference to Christianity in a revived constitution at a time when it was negotiating possible membership for mostly Muslim Turkey, he added.

"The geopolitics are against it," he said. "For a renegotiation of the treaty, a reference to religion will be at the bottom of the list of priorities."