Article 17: Reasons for Concern

This paper (here in pdf format only) was written for a conference at Aston University in November 2010 on “Does God Matter? Representing Religion in the European Union and the United States”.  It was subsequently published in a slightly revised form in “Representing Religion in the European Union – Does God Matter?” edited by Lucian Leustean (Routledge, 2013).

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Consultation by government with the governed about proposed policies is to be welcomed, and it should include religious organisations on the same terms as any others. Secularism – and the EU is a secular institution and committed to non-discrimination – is not a ban on the religious in the public arena, rather an obligation on government to give no weight to (purely) religious arguments. However, Article 17 is about more than consultation. It endorses the position of churches under national law, so that the EU can do nothing to correct discrimination and injustices entrenched in member states. And it gives privileged access to the EU at the highest level, superior to that of other civil society organisations, to one particular category of organisation – those representing religion and belief – whose dominant members, the churches,

• have a defining expertise – theology – that is irrelevant to the EU;

• have views on a range of matters of growing importance in the EU – such as education, child welfare, genetic research – that are highly controversial and not always representative even of their own members, let alone of the European public;

• have a record and current practice in politics and human rights that is seriously flawed; and

• have shown in the run-up to Article 17 an approach that is far from open and transparent.

The paper reviews the origins of Article 17 from a secularist viewpoint, describes the latest developments in the conduct of the dialogue and suggests ways (given that it will not be repealed) that its effects may be mitigated.

The background is explored in much more detail on the website of the European Humanist Federation, following the successful outcome of whose complaint to the European Ombudsman there is evidence of an improvement in EU practice.