The EU is a leading defender of religious freedom but must increase its efforts to prevent intolerance. A robust review of the EU’s Guidelines on the Freedom of Religion or Belief is one concrete way to do that, according to Co-Chairs of the EPP Group’s Working Group on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue, György Hölvényi MEP and Jan Olbrycht MEP.
Policymakers and religious, NGO and lay community representatives gathered together to assess the EU’s Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB), adopted in 2013, and discuss proposals to update the framework at a conference hosted by the MEPs at the European Parliament in Brussels recently.
Facing religious intolerances on a global scale
“The EPP Group Working Group for Interreligious Dialogue has been a unique structure at the European Parliament for two decades, promoting the issue of religious freedom beyond the borders of Europe. The general experience of the past few years shows that we live in a time of unprecedented religious intolerance on a global scale.
The general experience of the past few years shows that we live in a time of unprecedented religious intolerance on a global scale. It is time to strenghten EU external action against intolerance in the world György Hölvényi
“Today, ancient religious communities live under existential threat in Europe’s very neighbourhood. It is security that Christians and other minorities need the most. This situation places a very special responsibility on Europe and our institutions. I am therefore extremely pleased to have today’s discussion. It is time to strenghten EU external action against intolerance in the world,” said György Hölvényi MEP, Co-Chair of the Working Group.
Promotion of the freedom of religion or belief must be stepped up
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, more commonly referred to as the right to freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right of every human being. A rights-based approach is crucial but the challenge, of course, is to ensure the enforcement of those rights, according to Father Olivier Poquillon O.P., General Secretary of COMECE. Poquillon also underlined the importance that the Lisbon Treaty places on regular, frequent dialogue between the European Parliament and churches and non-confessional organisations and called on the EU to play a more important role in matters of religious freedom.
Similarly, Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief agreed that the EU’s efforts to advance the freedom of belief must be stepped up. In looking to the future, he stressed the value of education and inter-faith dialogue and advocacy for victims to foster shared experiences and solidarity in an effort to combat the so-called “fear of the other” and prevent violent extremism. Shaheed noted that the EU has one of the most robust frameworks to protect religious belief and stressed that by leading by example, the EU can be most effective and remain a shining beacon of hope around the world.
Ján Figel, Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion of belief outside the EU, commended the EPP Group on its long tradition of Interreligious Dialogue and the Parliament because, in his experience, not many parliaments discuss the issue. “We need dialogue for the common good, focused on human dignity.”
Religious belief goes to the very core of a person’s being; it is an intrinsic part of who we are. To seek to deprive a person is to seek to dehumanise them Mairead McGuinness
“Religious belief goes to the very core of a person’s being; it is an intrinsic part of who we are. To seek to deprive a person is to seek to dehumanise them,” said First Vice-President of the European Parliament with responsibility for Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, Mairead McGuinness MEP. In highlighting Parliament’s very active role on the subject of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief, McGuinness pointed out that the Parliament was consulted when the guidelines were being drafted, and stressed the importance of Parliament’s co-decision powers with the Council with regard to the EU budget.
A greater global awareness of the EU guidelines on FORB is needed according to Mercedes García Pérez, Head of the Human Rights Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Encouraging majority religions to speak up for minorities in their countries and against intolerance is also vital in her view.
A lengthy and varied debate involved many guest speakers (pictured) and conference attendees across a range of topics such as the persecution of Christians, education, country specific issues, aid and other EU support.