EHF and the European Commission

The EHF is recognised by the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) as representing humanists and secularists in the European community. 

It is the BEPA that organises the dialogue with the churches and non-confessional organisations.

Under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty (TFEU), the Union must maintain an "open, transparent and regular dialogue" with churches and non-confessional organisations.

This dialogue has been difficult to implement with the European Commission. The EHF had to fight for a long time (including a complaint submitted to the  European Ombudsman) to be able to organise the same meetings that churches had been granted for years. 

Meetings with the European Commission

Fighting for equal treatment for non-believers and non-confessional organisations 

EHF contributions to EC consultations

Other interventions

Useful links

Meetings with the European Commission

High Level Meeting with EC VP Frans Timmermans and Philosophical Organisations

2 June 2015

This sixth annual high-level meeting discussed the topic “Living together and disagreeing well”. The meeting took place within the framework of the ongoing dialogue with churches, religions, philosophical and non-confessional organisations based on Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty.

EHF contribution
EC press release 

Informal Meeting with EC Vice President Frans Timmermans

30 March 2015

This meeting was the opportunity for us to address several issues of concern : blasphemy laws within the EU, sexual and reproductive rights, EU LGBTI strategy, composition of the EU European Group of Ethics etc. 

Read our recommendations here

Dialogue Seminar on the rise of populism in Europe

Read more 

Humanists : difficult dialogue with the European Commission - EHF complaint to EU Ombudsman

15 May 2013

Given the recent developments in Hungary, Greece and Italy and the fact that populism is rising in many European countries, EHF raised this issue at the EU level and asked for a strong and coordinate action from European institutions.

EHF President Pierre Galand's speech (in French)
Other speeches


Meeting on conflicts of rights

4 June 2012 

EHF met Jean-Claude Thébault, the head of BEPA, and Katharina von Schnurbein, the BEPA official in charge of Article 17 dialogue, along with the two officials from the Directorate-General of Justice most concerned with our subject, Pia Lindholm and Christine Tomboy.

Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty introduced the EHF, David Pollock spoke about the difficult problems of reconciling freedom of religion or belief with equality and non-discrimination, explaining the background of an increasingly secular Europe and the way that aggressive assertion of freedom of religion has serious effects on the lives of the non-religious population, on which he quoted examples. Read his full speech. Professor Isabelle Rorive from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, speaking as an independent expert, went into the detail of a number of legal cases.

Working Lunch for non-confessionals

June 2009 

On 26 June the EHF and other “non-confessional” organisations were invited to a working lunch with President Barroso and President Pöttering at the Berlaymonth building in Brussels. Following that lunch we wrote to one of the Commissioners present, Louis Michel, about the risks of allowing undue exceptions for religious believers from non-discrimination laws.


EHF President speaks at EU conference on Intercultural Dialogue

November 2008

The entire conference is available on video on the European Commission website, including David Pollock’s talk and a response from him about two-thirds of the way through this link.

David Pollock’s talk in the session "Challenges for Dialogue between Faiths and Convictions"

Address by President Barroso to EHF Colloquium on Human Rights

April 2008

President Barroso speech

Meeting with President José Manuel Barroso

July 2007

We raised issues concerning the dialogue with churches and non-confessional organisations, our worries about the situation in Poland and other matters.


Bergamo conference on promoting a European public space

November  2006

EHF took part in the Bergamo conference on how to promote a European public space where citizens are better informed and engaged in EU policies and in the debate on the future of Europe

Report and EHF Presentation

Meeting with President José Manuel Barroso

November 2005

The meeting concentrated on the need to develop a society based on tolerance, democracy and solidarity, on freedom of conscience and on gender equality. The EHF sought impartiality of EU institutions, particularly in ethics committees and in the appointment of experts. President Barroso underlined the importance of developing a dialogue to bring together the European Union and its citizens. He pointed out that the values of the Union are also those of humanism. 

Press release

Fighting for equal treatment for non-believers and non-confessional organisations 

EHF Complaint to EU Ombudsman on discriminatory treatment by the European Commission 

25 January 2013 

On 18 October 2011, the EHF submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman arguing that the European Commission was refusing to comply with the Article 17:3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) which requires the EU to conduct a “regular, open and transparent dialogue with churches, religious communities as well as philosophical and non-confessional organisations.”

In the decision closing his inquiry published on 25 January 2013, the EU ombudsman found an act of maladministration from the European Commission and urged it to clarify the rules for its dialogue with churches and non-confessional organisations.

Read more here

EHF’s request for a fresh start under Article 17 

March 2010

With the Lisbon Treaty, the dialogue with the churches and non-confessional bodies is no longer discretionary but Treaty-bound. We asked President Barroso for a fresh and non-discriminatory start. We copied our letter to 22 sympathetic MEPs and to European representatives of the three main world religions that have been excluded from the annual meetings President Barroso and past-President Pottering have been holding with Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders.

EHF protests at biaised language in Equality Handbook

March 2009

We protested at the tendency for the European Handbook on Equality Data to use the exclusive term ‘religion’ where it should have used ‘religion or belief’, including non-religious beliefs. 

Read our letter and  EC Commissionner's answer

EHF protests at threats to secular nature of EU

December 2008

The EHF sent a letter to BEPA to point out the extent to which the EU was aligning itself with the churches and religion in general. We quoted as instances our exclusion from the annual May meetings with the presidents of the Commission, Council and Parliament, two recent meetings of the French presidency with churchmen and with member state delegations representing Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and EU participation in a forthcoming large Christian rally in Brussels.

EHF letter

EHF complains about implementation of Article 16C

January 2008

We wrote to President Barroso about the way the Commission is implementing Article 16C (now Article 17) on dialogue with the churches and non-confessional groups such as ourselves.

EHF letter and reply 

Letter to President of the EU Committee of the Regions protesting at exclusion of non-religious beliefs at EU Forum

November 2008

On November 5 2008 , we wrote to President of the EU Committee of the Regions about the exclusively religious view of intercultural dialogue apparent in the programme for a Forum due to be held on “Intercultural dialogue at the heart of Europe’s cities and regions”.

EHF letter and reply

EHF contributions to EC consultations 

EU Guidelines on Freedom of expression, July 2013

EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs, 2013

European Research Area, Nov 2011

Green paper on mutual recognition of civil status documents, Ap 2011

Proposal for an Anti-Discrimination Directive (beyond employment), Nov 2008

“Schools for the 21st Century”, Oct 2007

Year of Intercultural Dialogue, Oct 2006

The Future Shape of Europe, contribution to the Convention on the Future of Europe, March 2003

In early 2003, we made several contributions on polices for the European Union in the context of discussion of a possible European constitution :
Submission on sustainable development; Call for universal and extensive public services; We called for ’ethical, social and cultural debate on the rationale and the utilisation’ of scientific research and technological development and for public consultation on the subject; We insisted that the European Charter of Fundamental Rights be incorporated in the planned Constitution; We called for the EU’s objectives to be ‘pursued within a sustainable development perspective; We also demanded that the Constitution include a structure for ‘dialogue between civil society and the European institutions, under the political responsibility of the European Parliament,’ that associations seeking their recognition by the Union should have ‘an internal democratic legitimacy, and that there should be no ‘distinction between associations, whatever their philosophical or religious beliefs may be’.

Other interventions 

EHF seeks firm EU action on UNHRC resolution on defamation of religion

March 2009 

The EHF wrote on 12 March 2009 to President Barroso expressing alarm at a draft resolution from Pakistan, backed by other members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, calling for so-called “defamation of relgiion” to be made a criminal offence. We asked the EU to ensure that there was a more vigorous response from its member states than hitherto.

EHF letter

Letter to President Barroso: UN Human Rights Council 

April 2009

In the wake of numerous abuses by Islamic states in the UN Human Rights Council - well documented on the IHEU website - we wrote to President Barros suggesting that the democratic nations withdraw from the Council and set up a new international council genuinely concerned about Human Rights. His reply is also given at the link.

EHF letter and reply

The European Dream

March 2007

EHF published a booklet, The European Dream, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. A Press Conference was called on 26 March 2007 to launch the booklet and was addressed by Philippe Busquin, a former member of the European Commission.

The booklet reprinted the Brussels Declaration and Secular Vision for Europe. It includes an open letter to President Barroso in defence of secularism, and a major paper that presents a clear statement of the values and aspirations for a Europe in which democracy is participative as well as representative. It is a Europe in which our shared citizenship creates a true solidarity and cohesion across the continent, thereby contributing to the struggle against poverty and social exclusion. It is a Europe respectful of everyone’s freedom, where unfair discrimination on irrelevant grounds – sex, sexuality, age, race, disability, religion or belief – has no place. It offers a landmark of tolerance in a troubled world.

The European Dream

EHF Memorandum "The European Humanist Federation in the European Union"

Jun 2006

On the occasion of our 15th anniversary we issued a lengthy memorandum that dealt in part with a range of issues relating to the European Union.

EHF welcomes the rejection of Dr Rocco Buttiglione as candidate for membership of the EU Commission

October 2004

Press release
Statement welcoming Commission President Barroso’s final handling of the issue

Useful links related to European Commission :