Religion and belief and the European Parliament

In April the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament published a draft Report with a proposal for a European Parliament recommendation to the Council on the draft EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief. The operative part of the draft recommendation is as follows:

“The European Parliament …

1. Addresses the following recommendations to the Council:

a) Reason for action

Freedom of religion or belief constitutes, amongst all human rights, an essential and basic right which must be respected. Discrimination based on religion or belief still exists in all regions of the world, and persons belonging to particular religious communities, including religious minorities, continue to be denied their human rights in many countries.

b) Purpose and scope

The purpose and scope of the EU Guidelines are: to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief; to mainstream freedom of religion or belief in EU human rights policies and actions; and to develop clear benchmarks, criteria and standards in order to enhance the promotion of freedom of religion or belief in the work of civil servants and EU officials.

c) Definitions

Successful implementation of the Guidelines will depend on the clarity of the definitions used, including the right to religious education of children, freedom of assembly and freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to conscientious objection to military service, the right to asylum, and the fundamental right to protection of property.

d) Operational guidelines

The basic principles underlying EU actions on freedom of religion or belief, as well as the priority areas for those actions, are identified in Part 2 of the draft EU Guidelines. The

Guidelines are supported by international law and by treaties recognised by the

international community and ratified by Member States.

e) Collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief

An indispensable part of the freedom of religion or belief is the right to manifest that freedom in community with others. It includes the freedom to establish and maintain places of worship, to establish and maintain appropriate institutions with legal personality, and to appoint leaders of those institutions without external interference on the part of the state.

f) Support for – and engagement with – civil society

Support for and engagement with civil society in implementing the Guidelines is of crucial importance for the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.

g) Use of external EU financial instruments

The external EU financial instruments should be used both as incentives and as deterrents (freezing of funds) with regard to freedom of religion or belief in a particular country, being closely related to the assessment of the human rights situation as a whole in the country.

2. Instructs its President to forward this recommendation to the Council and, for information, to the Commission.”

Comment

According to the Parliament’s rules of procedure “a political group of at least 40 Members may table a proposal for a recommendation to the Council on subjects under Title V (External Action & Foreign Affairs) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)” (Rule 121.1). Under Article 36 TEU “The European Parliament may address questions or make recommendations to the Council or the High Representative”.

A colleague who specialises in European affairs contacted the Rapporteur and discovered that this is an “own initiative” from the Parliament ahead of the Commission’s proposal on EU Guidelines, which is expected at the end of June. She describes the draft recommendation as “simply MEPs using their rights and reminding the Council of their existence”! Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the proposal progresses and we look forward with interest to the Commission’s own proposals.

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