In June, the European Humanist Federation met the European Commission at two occasions in the framework of the “Article 17 Dialogue” stemming from the article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) requiring that a dialogue be established between the EU and religious as well as non-confessional organizations.
The first meeting, “Facing European crises: refugees, intolerance, place of the youth”, took place on 1 June and was organized by the European Commission’s DG Justice with the participation of a number of non-confessional organizations, including the European Humanist Federation (EHF).
The second meeting was hosted by Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Better Regulation, Interinstitutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The meeting was held in Brussels and bore the title “Migration, Integration and European Values: putting values into action”.
Read below EHF President Pierre Galand’s introductory speech at this occasion:
First, allow me to thank the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council for organizing this debate about issues that are relevant to the European Humanist Federation.
The European project is going through a major crisis. One of the most recent manifestations of this is of course the Brexit and the announced exit of our British friends from the European Union. The results of this demagogical campaign can be explained in different ways, but I would like to mainly highlight two lessons that appear to be fundamental for the Member States and the European Union.
As it has been massively covered by the British and international press, many “Brexiters” expressed their remorse after voting for leaving the EU. Many of them said to be shocked about the consequences of their votes and also denounced the lies spread by Nigel Farage et al. all along the Leave campaign. The difficult situation that a deeply divided and wounded United Kingdom is experiencing at the moment shows us that nothing is to be gained from giving in to populists discourse. Arousing fear and hatred of migrants, encouraging demagogic discourse and communitarianism only lead to political chaos, economic crisis, resentment and a country’s implosion.
In the face of the inexorable rise of far right movements and oppressive or even authoritarian policies led by certain national governments, all European institutions have a role to play. We can only regret the difference in treatment that the European Commission observed towards Hungary and Poland, two countries that strongly moved away from the rule of law, democracy and European values, and especially equal treatment and non-discrimination. The EU institutions would have won in coherence and credibility if they had established the same monitoring mechanisms towards these two countries.
European decision-makers do not seem to understand the increasing distance between or even the rejection of EU institutions and policies by citizens. But how can one believe in a project that denies its own values and the rules it has itself set up? The EU has to firmly and coherently defend the values of the European project. The initiative taken by MEP Sophia In’t Veld to introduce a new mechanism of democratic monitoring which would apply to all the Member States appears to go in that direction.
As secularists attached to the respect for democracy and fundamental rights for all, we call on the EU to refuse national step-back and repeated attacks on European solidarity. We call on the Commission but also and above all on the Council to put the values of equality, solidarity and social justice back at the heart of the European project.
This needs to be accomplished through a radical change of policies towards refugees and migrants. We often hear about the “migrants’ crisis”. But it is not the asylum-seekers who washed up on our coasts who plunged Europe into crisis, but the extremely poor and selfish handling by European governments of these people escaping violence and poverty.
Before talking about integration, I wish to remind all of the obligation for EU governments to respect the Geneva Convention and the non-refoulement principle. Governments have failed to anticipate what, in light of the Syrian, Lebanese or Libyan crises, was predictable. And the European Union has a hosting capacity outstandingly superior to the 160 000 refugees that governments committed to take care of. We call on the Member States to react with responsibility and dignity and to establish legal safe paths to the European territory.
Brexit also highlighted the rejection by many of the European project as it is today. In its race against public deficit, it is clear that the EU has forgotten what constitutes yet the heart of the European project: the individual. If it certainly is a threat to European cohesion, Brexit should push European decision-makers towards a deep questioning of the principles that guide European action. Some, as Matteo Renzi, already called for the end of austerity plans which he rightly so say “turn the future into a threat and reinforce fear in Europe”. We hope that other government leaders will join him and dare to change direction to finally engage in building a humane, social, solidary and fair Europe.
This solidarity project is the only one able to lead to a successful coexistence between local populations and migrants. Note here that I am not talking about migrants’ “integration” because I do not think that the migrants are to be “integrated” somewhere. The French-style assimilation model and the English-style communitarian model have both shown their limits in terms of integration. Today, we need to think of a third path, as are currently doing the Maltese, for whom the responsibility of successful integration has to be shared between the various populations constituting society. This ecompasses encouraging migrants to get familiar with our values and our languages but also favoring the discovery of these migrants’ cultures and experiences by local population. The contribution of local associations is vital in this process of learning diversity and dismantling prejudices, but cannot thrive without political will and support. This work also needs to be done at school and we encourage governments to reinforce their engagement in that sense, by building partnerships with associations fighting against racism or homophobia, with family planning, etc.
The political and organizational framework of this integration has to be secularism, understood as the neutrality of public institutions towards diverse beliefs, so as to guarantee the freedom to believe or not and the equality of all in front of the law. Some topics related to equality are still debated on in Europe: same-sex marriage, sexual and reproductive rights, euthanasia or embryonic research. What all these topics have in common is the will of some religious groups to impose their dogmatic views on the whole of society. This is not acceptable: opening rights does not force anyone to exercise these rights if they are contrary to their beliefs. Opening new rights without questioning existing rights: this is this delicate compromise that secularism as an organizational framework allows to achieve. This implies sharing a common base of values acceptable to all, i.e. the principles of the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights (Charter of Fundamental Rights, European Convention on Human Rights). Diversity of opinions, beliefs and cultures in our societies necessarily needs to be maintained in such a common framework in order to ensure dignity and integrity for all citizens.
This is the project that we propose for Europe.
Thank you all.