God. Dieu. Dio. Gott.
Whatever the Supreme Being is called in the more than a dozen languages spoken in Europe, there is no mention of the deity in a draft of the new European Union Constitution made public this month.
Nor is there any mention of religion in the draft of the first 16 articles of what is to become an American-style written Constitution for the European Union presented Feb. 6 at a news conference in Brussels.
“The union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, values which are common to the member states,” read the draft of Article 2, the section that deals with European values. “Its aim is a society at peace, through the practice of tolerance, justice and solidarity.”
The draft was presented by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who is the president of a European Constitutional Convention that includes 105 delegates from the 15 current E.U. member states and the 10 countries slated to join next year.
The secular wording was hailed as a victory by European leaders and others who backed a clear separation of religious and political identity.
“I am very satisfied,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told JTA.
During some of the debate on the issue, he said, “It had looked as if there might have been wording adopted that would have excluded not only a good part of the Europeans, but a good part of European history. The wording adopted appears to be the best solution, and I hope it can be productive for the future.”
But the Vatican declared the wording “completely unsatisfactory,” and some conservative Christian politicians vowed to press for a mention of religion in the constitution’s preamble or other parts of the document.
Whether to include a mention in Article 2 of the deity or other specific reference to Europe’s spiritual or religious heritage had been a contentious issue. It had polarized delegates and underscored differing visions of identity in a Europe that is home to several Christian denominations and at least 10 million Muslims and other religious minorities, including more than 1 million Jews.
It had also contributed to debate over what constituted “Europe,” given the European Union’s eastward enlargement. In December, attendees at an E.U. summit agreed to admit Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia next year. In addition, predominantly Muslim Turkey wants to join.
The decision to omit any religious reference was taken by the 13-member presidium, or coordinating body, of the convention, which had to sift through and debate a wide range of proposals from the delegates as well as write-in suggestions from the European public and lobby groups.
The Vatican had pushed strongly for inclusion of a reference to the contribution that religion — and Christianity in particular — has made to European heritage.
Pope John Paul II told Giscard last fall during an audience at the Vatican that believers want their “identity and specific contributions to the life of European societies” respected by the new constitution.
“The contribution of Christianity and man’s Christian vision in the history and culture of different countries is part of a common treasure and it appears logical that this should be inscribed in the project of the convention,” he said.
Some delegates, including politicians from Germany, Italy, Poland and Slovakia, had pressed for Article 2 to include a phrase adapted from the Polish Constitution and which would state: “The union’s values include the values of those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty as well as those who do not share such a belief but respect these universal values arising from other sources.”
Other delegates and lobbying groups had pushed for a reference to Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage.
Others, however, such as delegates from France, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands, had sharply opposed any institutionalizing of religion or spirituality in the political document, saying such a mention could lead to a division between believers and nonbelievers.
“Religion is a private matter,” said Ana Palacio, the foreign minister of Spain, where any attempt to institutionalize religion reminded many of conditions under the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
“Our identity is the fight for democracy, for human rights, for the separation between church and state. The only banner that we have is secularism,” she said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.