On 25 April 2013 the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP) hosted a meeting on freedom of religion in external EU-policies.
In her introductory speech EPPSP Chair Sophie in ‘t Veld (NL, ALDE) clarified the issues at stake: “How can the European Union and its’ member states actively assure the protection of freedom of religion and promote a secular democracy via external policies through for example the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the staff in embassies?”
EPPSP Vice Chair Dennis de Jong (NL, GUE) stressed the importance of some aspects concerning freedom of religion: the freedom to change religion or belief, the collective right of the exercise of this liberty. According to the guidelines for the EU officials of European External Action Service (EEAS) (to be adopted in June 2013)the EU does not promote any religion or belief. Human rights are there to protect people no institutions. The EU must demonstrate absolute neutrality in religious matters. The question of how to protect non-organized non-believers deserves our attention as well. “All religions and beliefs, also non-religious beliefs, deserve protection” Mr de Jong concluded.
Mr Lorenzo Zucca, Reader in Jurisprudence at King’s College London demanded that attention should be given to the “real problems”: rights of women and children and the protection of ethnic (not only religious) minorities. He warned for the European “hubris” while promoting and introducing (“imposing”) our secular values to non-Western countries. He also touched upon the difference of freedom of religion within the EU and in foreign affairs. Mr Zucca also stood still at the uniqueness of the right of religion: does it need special protection?
Mr Robert-Jan Uhl, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated that the freedom of religion is recognized in various international conventions and treaties (going back to Helsinki, 1975). He explained some basic elements of the freedom: right to build places of worship, prisoners’ rights to moral and spiritual assistance, the legal personality of religious organizations. According to Mr Uhl the EU could do more on the right of religious objection for instance. He stressed the need for more training of EU officials when working abroad. Also, he said the EU applies sometimes double standards: for ex. blasphemy laws, recognition of religious organizations, and protection of individuals.
In his intervention MEP Michael Cashman (UK, S&D) stated that religion is a private matter and that imposition of religion or religious values on others is simply unacceptable. End must be made to the intolerance towards homophobia by religions.
Questions from the audience concerned the inclusion of non-believers rights in the Human Rights council of the United Nations (and the role of EU institutions). Some severe critique was uttered on the attitudes of the representative of the EEAS.
Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Foreign Policy of the European Unon – Much Ado About Nothing? / Pasquale Annicchino – European University Institute – Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS)
Religion and US Foreign Policy/ BerkleyCenter for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at GeorgetownUniversity
Very interesting site with debates: (point and counterpoint): This House would make religious freedom abroad one of its primary foreign policy concerns