“The Berlin Declaration is a victory for Secularism in Europe” said Roy Brown, coordinator of the Vision for Europe campaign, speaking from London last night. “The text, intended to pave the way for a new draft of the European constitution, emphasises the centrality of the individual, our “inalienable” rights and the “inviolable” dignity of the individual. The Declaration contains no reference to God, religion, or to Europe’s supposed Christian heritage but clearly reflects the shared values expressed in the Brussels Declaration launched by our campaign last month at the European Parliament. We congratulate the German chancellor Angela Merkel and our European colleagues for this outcome – and we thank everyone who worked so hard for this welcome result”. We now have the official translation of the Declaration available.
The victory for Secularism had seemed unlikely last Autumn when, following a meeting with the pope, the German Chancellor announced plans to revive the stalled project for a European constitution “with God included”.
The text of the Berlin Declaration was the subject of sometimes bitter debate behind closed doors between those who wanted it to contain references to God and to Europe’s Christian heritage, and those who saw any such references as potentially divisive. In the event it appears that good sense, assisted by a strong campaign by Europe’s secularists has prevailed.
The secular fight-back centred around the Vision for Europe campaign and the Brussels Declaration, a one-page restatement of Europe’s shared values: the dignity and autonomy of the individual, equality of the sexes, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Brussels Declaration, a joint project sponsored by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the European Humanist Federation, Catholics for a Free Choice, and the European Parliament all-party group on Separation of Religion and Politics, received widespread support from politicians, academics, scientists, Nobel prize-winners, writers and journalists from across Europe. It has been signed by more than 80 MEPs. The Brussels Declaration was presented to the representative of the German presidency at the European parliament on 27 February and was followed up by letters to all 27 European heads of government.
Sophie in’t Veld, chair of the parliamentary group, said “I am very pleased that the Berlin Declaration puts the dignity and rights of the individual center stage. Individual freedom, the right to one’s own choices is the very essence of our European values. Freedom of religion is part of that individual freedom. Religious leaders of all corners of Europe are trying to turn the clock back by attacking individualism and the separation of church and state.”
David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation said: “This is a triumph for common sense but we cannot rest on our laurels. The forces of reaction will not have been silenced. Regardless of one’s personal views on the desirability of a new European constitution, all who oppose religious privilege must continue to work for a secular Europe”.
Here is the full text of the Berlin Declaration. The text of the Brussels Declaration is available on the Vision for Europe web site.
For centuries Europe has been an idea, holding out hope of peace and understanding. That hope has been fulfilled. European unification has made peace and prosperity possible. It has brought about a sense of community and overcome differences. Each Member State has helped to unite Europe and to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Thanks to the yearning for freedom of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe the unnatural division of Europe is now consigned to the past. European integration shows that we have learnt the painful lessons of a history marked by bloody conflict. Today we live together as was never possible before.
We, the citizens of the European Union, have united for the better.
In the European Union, we are turning our common ideals into reality: for us, the individual is paramount. His dignity is inviolable. His rights are inalienable. Women and men enjoy equal rights.
We are striving for peace and freedom, for democracy and the rule of law, for mutual respect and shared responsibility, for prosperity and security, for tolerance and participation, for justice and solidarity.
We have a unique way of living and working together in the European Union. This is expressed through the democratic interaction of the Member States and the European institutions. The European Union is founded on equal rights and mutually supportive cooperation. This enables us to strike a fair balance between Member States’ interests.
We preserve in the European Union the identities and diverse traditions of its Member States. We are enriched by open borders and a lively variety of languages, cultures and regions. There are many goals which we cannot achieve on our own, but only in concert. Tasks are shared between the European Union, the Member States and their regions and local authorities.
We are facing major challenges which do not stop at national borders. The European Union is our response to these challenges. Only together can we continue to preserve our ideal of European society in future for the good of all European Union citizens. This European model combines economic success and social responsibility. The common market and the euro make us strong. We can thus shape the increasing interdependence of the global economy and ever-growing competition on international markets according to our values. Europe’s wealth lies in the knowledge and ability of its people; that is the key to growth, employment and social cohesion.
We will fight terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration together. We stand up for liberties and civil rights also in the struggle against those who oppose them. Racism and xenophobia must never again be given any rein.
We are committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the world and to ensuring that people do not become victims of war, terrorism and violence. The European Union wants to promote freedom and development in the world. We want to drive back poverty, hunger and disease. We want to continue to take a leading role in that fight.
We intend jointly to lead the way in energy policy and climate protection and make our contribution to averting the global threat of climate change.
The European Union will continue to thrive both on openness and on the will of its Member States to consolidate the Union’s internal development. The European Union will continue to promote democracy, stability and prosperity beyond its borders.
With European unification a dream of earlier generations has become a reality. Our history reminds us that we must protect this for the good of future generations. For that reason we must always renew the political shape of Europe in keeping with the times. That is why today, 50 years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, we are united in our aim of placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009.
For we know, Europe is our common future.