Three weeks before an EU summit ending the Irish presidency in the bloc, the constitutional marathon is still under way. No compromise has been agreed on the voting strengths of the EU's newly enlarged membership. It also seems that the bloc's religious-secular divide is as strong as ever. The advocates of enshrining Europe's Christian roots in the Constitutional Treaty seem to be losing their battle:
During the ministerial session in Brussels, France, Belgium and many other mainly Protestant states rejected pressure from seven countries which are in favour of making an explicit reference to Europe's Christian tradition. In a letter to the Irish presidency, predominantly Roman Catholic Poland and Italy, joined by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Malta and Portugal, called for a last minute re-examination of the issue. Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski stresses that the European charter must not ignore two millennia of Christianity in Europe:
"In my opinion, to speak about Europe and European history without Christian tradition is a mistake. For more than a thousand years Europe is very much connected with, and founded on, these pillars. We don't propose a history of Christianity in the preamble. We expect and we need to have a sentence in which we speak about European values, very much connected with Christian tradition, and that means religion, church, etc."
Critics say that a reference to Christian traditions would alienate Europeans of other faiths or atheists, being also a snub to Muslim-majority Turkey which is hoping to open EU accession talks shortly. But the observers of the Polish and EU scene here see the problem in a broader context of the concept of the Europe of values championed by the community's founding fathers. Bernard Margueritte is a French journalist living in Poland for over 25 years.
"I hope very much that now that countries that have suffered under communism and other communists were able to keep their soul almost intact, will give us the soul we very much need in the whole of Europe. I always believe that the value of Europe is, indeed, the values of the founding fathers of these European communities - Schuman, De Gasperi and Jean Monnet and all those - hoping that we are building a strong community that will be able to show the world a policy and a community spirit founded on moral and ethical values."
Polish politicians argue that what they ask for is simply to recognize an historical truth. President Kwasniewski again:
"It's not by chance or accident that if you're visiting European cities one of the important elements is to visit a cathedral or a church. In Turkey it's a mosque, and it's quite natural - it's a part of our history."
It has been suggested by the opponents of a reference to Christianity that the EU Constitution could be accompanied by a separate declaration acknowledging Europe's Christian roots. Polish politicians - and the bishops - have made it clear, however, that such a solution would not carry any political weight.
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