EHF and the Council of the European Union

The EU Council of Ministers or European Council gathers the heads of government of all EU member states (and also refers to similar meetings of ministers concerned with any particular topic – finance, trade, etc). 

The Presidency of the European Council is held in turn by each of the 28 member states. In addition, under the Lisbon Treaty a permanent president of the Council has been appointed – the first to hold this office is Herman Van Rompuy.

In 2011, the EHF was accorded for the first time a meeting with the Council presidency, although meetings with the two bodies of European bishops (COMECE and CEC) have been standard for several years.

But not all Presidencies have been willing to receive non-confessional organisations. While the Danish Presidency (2012) received neither churches' representatives nor non-confessionals, the Irish Presidency (2013) ignored EHF's requests and received churches representatives -only- in Dublin. 

Latvian Presidency

February 2015

On 4 February, the EHF meets Latvian Secretary for European Affairs Ms.Skujina at Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Riga. 

In the wake of terrorists attacks in France and dramatic violations of freedom of religion or beliefs (FRoB) worldwide (see 2014 Freedom of Thought Report), our recommendations highlight the need to remove blasphemy laws abroad but also in the EU. We insist on the need for the EU to stop holding double standards on fundamental rights and adopt strong internal mechanisms reflecting its external policies.  

Our European recommendations focus on FRoB, "blasphemy", LGBTI rights and homophobia, protection of the rule of law and EU anti-discrimination legislation.

Given the persistance of religious privileges and the poor protection of LGBTI's people rights in Latvia, our recommendations also focus on national policies.

Read full recommendations

Italian Presidency 

September 2014

Our recommendations focused on three main areas where the EU should stop holding double standards and strenghten its action to defend fundamental rights: Freedom of expression related to freedom of religion or beliefs; Equal treatment and non-discrimination on all grounds; Human rights and the rule of law.

Given that Italy also falls short of several issues related to freedom of religion or beliefs, human rights and non-discrimination, the EHF made national recommendations on LGBTI rights, Italy's conservative family law, "Church tax" and conscientious objection in SRHR.

Read full recommendations 

Greek Presidency

March 2014

On 7 March 2014, the EHF met Greek Ambassador Mr Sotiropoulos at Greek Permanent Representation to the EU. We raised several European and domestic issues and made recommendations on : Equal treatment of all beliefs by rotating Council Presidencies; Creation of a new Rule of Law mechanism to protect fundamental rights within the EU; Blasphemy laws in Greece and in Europe; Xenophobia and far-right extremism in Greece ; Protection of migrants' rights, LGBT's rights and conscientious objectors' rights in Greece.

EHF recommendations 

Lithuanian Presidency

September 2013

On 27 September 2013, the EHF met Lithuanian Ambassador Mr Raimundas Karoblis at Lithuanian Permanente Representation to the EU. We raised several European and domestic issues and made recommendations on : Equal treatment of all beliefs by rotating Council Presidencies ; Freedom of expression related to religious issues within the EU;  EU funding for research on human embryos in Horizon 2020;  Coming restrictive law on abortion in Lithuania ;  Coming homophobic and transphobic legislative proposals in Lithuania.

EHF recommendations

Irish Presidency shows clear bias in favor of churches

May 2013

On 21 November 2012, the EHF wrote to the Irish Prime Minister in view of the coming Irish Presidency to draw his attention on the need to implement Article 17 in a fair and equal way, i.e. to receive the EHF if they planned to receive churches’ representatives. In a reply dated “December 2012”, his Office said that there was “no meeting planned” with religious groups but ensured that, in the event of a change on this position, EHF views “have been noted”.

On 8 March 2013, a churches delegation led by COMECE General Secretary Fr. Patrick Daly was received by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Dublin, on behalf of the Irish Council Presidency. On 14 March, the EHF wrote again to the Irish Prime Minister to organize a meeting on the same footing. The Taoiseach Office eventually answered on 16 May 2013 that it was too late to meet the Irish Prime Minister in the framework of the Council Presidency and offered to meet a “senior official level”.

Despite EHF repeated requests, the Irish EU presidency did not meet our wish to organize a joint meeting. It has clearly implemented Article 17 in a biased way in favor of churches. Doing so, it has chosen to ignore the voice of those millions of European non-believers, which goes against European value of equality and non-discrimination.

Press release
MEP Sophie in't Veld's letter to President Van Rompuy 

Cypriot Presidency

November 2012

On 6 November 2012, the EHF met with Mr George Zodiates, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU, to express its views on several European issues : Horizon 2020 and the EU funding for human embryonic stem cells research, Tonio Borg’s designation as new European Commissioner for Heath, the new EU “Guidelines” on freedom of religion or belief, the adoption of the anti-discrimination directive, judicial and administrative harassment against defenders of migrants’ rights in Cyprus and abortion law in Cyprus.

EHF recommendations

Polish Presidency 

September 2011

The EHF had a two-hour meeting with the Polish Presidency of the European Council of Ministers in Warsaw on September 13 and addressed the following issues of concern : Poland and the “opt-out” of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, “Horizon 2020”, Undue Polish protection of Roman Catholic Church, discrimination of non-believers in Poland, Blasphemy law in Poland, position of women in Polish society, domestic violence, abortion law in Poland.

Press release 
Report of the meeting

Hungarian Presidency 

May 2011

The EHF was received in Budapest’s Parliament building by half a dozen ministers and officials of Hungary’s government, led by their Secretary of State for Religious, Civil and Ethical Matters.

EHF representatives dealt with specific points of concern: the Presidency’s initiative on family policy and demographics; Hungary’s new constitution and in particular its protection of embryonic and foetal life and its implications of discrimination based on sexual orientation; the new media law in Hungary; and EU efforts to tackle discrimination.

EHF recommendations

Belgian Presidency 

January 2011

On 11 January 2011 the EHF met with the Belgian President of the Council.  This was the first time the EHF had been accorded a meeting with the Council presidency, although meetings with the two bodies of European bishops (COMECE and CEC) have been standard for some years.

EHF's representatives were received by the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Yves Leterme and addressed the issue of equal treatement of churches and non-confessional organisation by Council Presidencies.

Report
EHF remarks

Spanish Presidency

May 2010

EHF took part in a conference on Religious Freedom in Democratic Societies organised by the Spanish presidency with the UN Alliance of Civilisations.

Report and speech

Spanish/Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies 

March 2010

The EHF wrote to the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian presidencies about the need for even-handed implementation of the Lisbon Treaty dialogue and equal treatment of non-confessionals/churches.

EHF letter

French Presidency 

November and December 2008

The EHF wrote to President Sarkozy as Council President for the second half of 2008 protesting at special treatment for churches and for the three Abramic religions and exclusion of non-confessional organisations of the meeting organised on 21 November.

EHF letter