European extremists are worried about the rise of Christian-nativist populism

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About 15 years ago, when the machinery of the European Union was being renewed as it is now, one of the most heated debates concerned the role, if any, that would be placed second to God. The Vatican and some Catholic states like Poland wanted theistic language in the EU constitutional treaty; a secular camp led by France opposed it. In the end, the closest thing to a spiritual reference was a statement in the treaty’s preamble that the signatories “draw inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanitarian heritage of Europe …”

In another strange compromise, Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union subsequently requires EU institutions to maintain “open, transparent and regular” dialogue with churches and other religious groups, as well as with philosophical and non-confidential. On the secular side, the European Humanitarian Federation, which gathers around 60 smaller organizations in more than 20 countries, is the EU’s main interlocutor. He compares an external advisory body like the Conference of European Churches, which is mostly Protestant and Orthodox, and COMECE, the Catholic bishops’ group. Both of these organizations maintain active lobbying activities around the EU institutions.

The religious types and the secular people are still questioning how much access they should have to the upper echelons of the Euro-bureaucracy. In the last few weeks, a storm erupted in the teacups of Strasbourg when it emerged that Margaret McGuinness, an Irish politician who is one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament, was on the idea of ​​increasing the exchange of the legislature with partners Article 17. Instead of just attending three conferences a year, they may be invited to meet officials involved in the planning of parliamentary affairs, giving them the opportunity to raise issues that are of concern to them.

Ms McGuiness was adamant that the proposals, which were leaked by investigative reporter Sian Norris, were only to be moved, and that access would be improved. be given in equal measure to religious and secular organizations. But Virginie Rozière, a French MEP and a staunch advocate of secularism, said it was “absolutely false” to consider any change promoting the role of the churches.

Despite this sparring, the pompous phrase “cultural, religious and humanitarian heritage” actually corresponds to something real. Whether they are on the Christian centre-right or the more secular centre-left, most European politicians, and ultimately the electorate, hold many views. shared in common in recent years: belief in universal suffrage, freedom of speech, the rule. law and due process, and against racism. In their understanding of European history, some would emphasize the Judeo-Christian heritage, while others would emphasize the struggle against clerical authority that the Enlightenment announced. But no one would want to re-impose Christianity through top-down methods. After all, the advent of Christian Democracy after 1945 marked a final break with Christian authoritarianism.

Nevertheless, the delegates who met in Iceland recently for the annual gathering of the European Humanitarian Federation saw troubling signs on the horizon. A wide range of threats to the enlightened order was called by Giulio Ercolessi, an Italian liberal who is the president of the federation. As he said:

Human Rights, individual freedom, the rule of law, the secular character of our institutions and the very idea of ​​constitutional democracy are being attacked, in the world and also on our continent… Scientific achievements that has made our lives healthier and easier lately. doubt has been cast for decades…religious fundamentalism is coming together [to use] religious traditions as weapons to be pointed against newcomers, in the hands of terrorists of the worst kind…

One of the developments that worries Mr. Ercolessi and his fellow humanists is the rise across Europe of the populist, xenophobic right, which often dresses itself in religious or Christian clothing. indigenous, even if its leaders are not usually passionate. Parties around that struggle have been at the heart of Hungary, Italy and Austria. In last month’s European elections the nationalist right made big gains in Britain and France. These parties are not, in general, openly opposed to liberal democracy or the rule of law; but some of their supporters are less than respectful of these values.

It may be a sign of the times that Europe’s most important Christian Democrat, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, felt compelled to say, in an interview with CNN after the vote of Europe: “We must face the scenes of the past. .we need to tell our youth what history has made us… why we want democracy, why we stand against intolerance [and] why we show no tolerance for human rights violations.”

Mr. Ercolessi was also concerned about a less obvious result of the current wave of migration into Europe. Since many of the new arrivals are from countries dominated by Islam or other conservative religions, he found widespread concern even on the European left that waves of immigration could reduce the number of immigrant micro-communities. rise of ultra-conservative migration, showing its “new obscurity” on the continent. These fears were visible across the political spectrum in France and the Netherlands, Mr Ercolessi said. As a result, anti-immigration sentiments can be heard even from progressive politicians.

The best way to counter all this, in Mr. Ercolessi’s opinion, is to present an important but overlooked fact: many newcomers to Europe are not ‘ bring an ultra-conservative religion with them, but run away from it. Among them are at least some people from the Middle East who face persecution because they are LGBT or atheist or members of a religious minority.

In short, the influx of new people from poor and often violent places, and the complex political consequences of that influx, is a challenge to the “cultural, religious and humanitarian heritage” of the Europe as the writers of the treaty, with a combination of political ability and motivation. , he described it. People of many metaphysical faiths will be needed to protect that inheritance.

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