At a meeting on 27 February 2007 at the European Parliament, the Vision for Europe campaign launched the Brussels Declaration, a restatement of Europe’s shared values. Supported by hundreds of national and European politicians, prominent academics and community leaders the Brussels Declaration is the centrepiece of the campaign to head off claims by organised religion for even greater involvement in Europe’s political affairs. Attempts to claim the Christian religion as the foundation for the continent’s democratic and ethical values are being strongly contested. The Declaration is now open for signature by all European citizens at: www.visionforeurope.org
Introducing the Brussels Declaration to a distinguished audience of MEPs and European secularists, Roy Brown, coordinator of the campaign, said:
“The Vision for Europe campaign is a response by Europe’s secularists to increasing polarisation in Europe. Faced with the growing assertiveness of radical Islam, many religious leaders are attempting to reassert Europe’s supposed “Judeo-Christian” identity. We must not confuse our history with our identity. We do not see regression to a Europe in which religions play an increasing and divisive role as the answer to these problems. Rather we need to concentrate all our efforts on reinforcing those values which unite us while drawing a line against attempts to undermine our cherished freedoms”, said Mr Brown in presenting the first copy of the Brussels Declaration to Dr Max Maldacker, representing the German presidency.
The meeting, hosted by the European Parliament All-Party group on Separation of Religion and Politics was chaired by MEP Sophie in’t Veld, who highlighted the need for all of us to defend our common values.
Dr Maldacker, replying to Mr Brown, welcomed the declaration and undertook to bring it to the attention of the group working on a new attempt to revitalise the stalled European Constitution. He explained that with such a wide divergence of opinion in Europe over not only the content but the very existence of a constitutional document, the drafting process would take several years and involve several future presidencies. He warned however that secularism is not enough, pointing to the Soviet Union as an example of a secular state.
Elfriede Harth, speaking for Catholics for a Free Choice, said: “It is important for all who share our concerns over women’s rights and the dignity and autonomy of the individual to work together”, citing the Brussels Declaration as an example of what can be achieved. MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg pointed out that the values in the Brussels Declaration are not exclusively European, but universal and shared by all.
Several speakers from the floor emphasised the importance of the resisting attempts by organised religion to claim a greater role in European institutions, and some gave examples from their own countries of abuse of religious privilege. David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation, suggested that the German presidency might do worse than base the new constitution on the Brussels Declaration.
In his concluding remarks, Roy Brown pointed out that the Soviet Union had been an atheistic state, the very antithesis of the secular state that we were seeking to create. He accused the pope and other religious leaders of deliberately confusing secularism with militant atheism in their attempts to portray secularism as amoral. The Brussels Declaration is a restatement not only of our rights and freedoms but of our responsibilities to others and to future generations. He challenged Europe’s political leaders to ensure that any future constitution defended Europe’s liberal, humanitarian and inclusive values: the values still shared by the great majority of our citizens.
The Brussels Declaration is backed by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Catholics for Free Choice and the European Humanist Federation with support from the European Parliament’s All Party Working Group on Religion and Politics and over 40 European non-governmental organisations.
Over 400 of Europe’s leading personalities have so far lent their names to the Brussels Declaration including more than 60 MEPs. The signatories include leading conservative, liberal, social democratic and green party politicians, Catholic, Protestant, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu leaders, and many leading academics, philosophers and scientists, including several Nobel prize-winners.
Immediately following the launch all eight Hungarian Socialist MEP’s signed the Declaration, joining the 10 out of 15 cross-party Danish MEPs who signed last week.
The Brussels Declaration can be downloaded from the website in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Dutch, Hungarian, Romanian, Greek, Latvian, Slovak and Portuguese. More languages will be available shortly. The website also contains a detailed analysis and discussion of each of the values listed in the Brussels Declaration together with a full list of distinguished signatories.