Article 17: Barroso suggests he will take on board EHF criticisms
David Pollock took advantage of it to expose the dissatisfaction of the humanist and secularist movement with the way the Commission is implementing the dialogue under Article 17. The EHF did not seek the dialogue, but since it exists, he said, it must be conducted fairly, without any bias towards the religions. As to the “summit meetings” there should be consultation about the subjects and about who should be invited – albeit the EHF was happy to cooperate with them, the number of freemasons at these meetings was “quite disproportionate”. His speech is here.
Replying at the end of the meeting, President Barroso acknowledged the criticism of his office’s work in organising the events and said he had noted the points made. He had a friendly, if very general, private exchange with David Pollock after the meeting.
The main focus for the meeting lay elsewhere. Just as in 2010, those invited were predominantly from secularist Freemason lodges and other organisations – a total of 13 out of the total of 16 guests. The others were David Pollock (EHF president), Pierre Galand (EHF vice-president and president of Belgium’s Centre d’Action Laïque) and Keith Porteous-Wood (president of the UK’s National Secular Society). (There was a similar number of people “accompanying” the guests of whom three out of 14 were from non-Masonic organisations – Jean de Brueker and Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty of CAL and Elizabeth O’Casey of the NSS.)
Also just as in 2010, the meeting started in a conference room and adjourned to a dining room, continuing over lunch. It ended with a press conference, at which the three Presidents (of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament) spoke and answered one or two questions. The official press release is here. Pierre Galand intervened to describe in detail the extensive development work CAL has been doing for years in north African countries.
This was of relevance as the theme for the meeting was the role of the EU as a “partnership for democracy and shared prosperity” with particular reference to the “Arab spring” countries and other EU neighbouring states.
President Barroso (of the Commission) made a wide-ranging speech, referring to the economic crisis, to the need to safeguard fundamental values, to pockets of resistance within the EU to openness and tolerance of minorities, to attacks in the name of religion on freedom of the press, but to the EU as still an inspiration to many elsewhere, not least in north Africa. His speech is here.
President Buzek (of the Parliament) spoke briefly about human dignity and the promotino of freedom. President van Rompuy (of the Council) talked of the “huge leap forward” for democracy in the past 40 years, now finally reaching the Arab world. There were bound to be difficulties in establishing democracy in countries with no experience of it – unlike most east European countries after the collapse of Communism. His speech is here.
Denise Oberlin, Grande Maîtresse de la Grande Loge Féminine de France, spoke at some length on behalf of all the French and Belgian freemasonry organisations and some others. She spoke mainly of the values these organisations supported, in particular democracy, women’s rights, equality and human dignity, and of the risks to them from the economic crisis, even in some EU states. She referred to developments in north African states and the help they would need in introducing democracy. Similar
The first speaker over lunch was David Pollock of the EHF. As noted above, he concentrated on the structure of the dialogue itself but also referred to the failings of internal EU democracy, especially in the economic crisis.
Keith Porteous-Wood also spoke about the Article 17 dialogue. Presumably it was meant to inform EU policy by consultation with the full range of religions and non-religious beliefs, but it was doomed to fail. First, the non-religious were mostly not involved (why should they be?) in the organisations that represented their interests, which were accordingly weak and too often discounted. Again, the religious population was represented by the church hierarchies who, using “well oiled lobbying and historic links”, pressed politicians mainly on issues (opposition to reproductive and LGBT rights etc) on which their own congregations substantially disagreed. He suggested that use be made of the EU’s Eurobarometer surveys to reveal this disparity. In closing he drew attention to the welcome but surprising recognition by the First Minister of Northern Ireland of the social damage done by segregated (Catholic and Protestant) schooling.
The EU’s video of the meeting and the subsequent press conference may be seen on the EHF’s YouTube channel here.
The meeting was followed later in the day by a (very lively) meeting in the European Parliament called by President Buzek to discuss how the Article 17 dialogue should be implemented in the Parliament – see our report here.
This content last updated 6 February 2013 @ 12:52 pm