„FONDAZIONE ALCIDE DE GASPERI“
3rd International Forum „Europe in the Thought and in the Action of John Paul II“
Rom, 22nd February 2002
Hans-Gert Poettering, chairman of the group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (EPP-ED) in the European Parliament:
The Commitment of the European Parliament for Defence and Promotion of Christian Values
Ladies and gentlemen,
first of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Foundation Alcide de Gasperi and in particular to its president Mr. Angelo Bernassola, for the invitation to participate in the Forum.
The topic of the Forum is of special interest to a politician who is member of a party which still today is proud to carry the designation „Christian“ in its official name. But I am adressing you today not as a German Christian Democrat but as a member of the European Parliament.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the European Union is clearly based on Christian values. This of course has a lot to do with the history and the culture of the countries which form this Union. But it also has to do with its founding fathers, Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer- to name but two of the driving forces behind the European integration process. Both were leaders of Christian parties in their respective countries, the CDU and the Democrazia Cristiana. Both had suffered badly under dictatorships and were convinced that the future of their countries – and of Europe – had to be firmly based on Christian principles. This was the only way to avoid a reoccurence of the catastrophes which had hit Europe twice in the first half of the last century.
Let me now try to prove what I have just stated, i.e. that the European Union is based on Christian values. This is not at all self-evident. After all, Europe today consists of secular nations – characterized by the separation of church and state. Secularization was and remains the background for the European integration process. But the link to Christianity is still today an important component of European identity: Our continent is clearly marked by it: Cathedrales and abbeys, hospitals and schools as well as road crosses- all remind us of our Christian roots, so do the 7-day week and the liturgical calendar. Still today, of the 720 million Europeans 500 million are Christians. But- and this is the central point- the values which the European Union stands for are based on the importance that the Christian religion attaches to the individual human being: Man is created after god’s image. As a consequence, man’s dignity is inviolable. Inviolability means that human dignity and human life have to be unconditionally respected and protected. The individual and individual freedom take center stage, but freedom of course implies to everybody, to all these who are of different opinion, of different race and of different religion. Therefore, Christian values stand for tolerance, peaceful coexistence and solidarity. Although these Christian ideals have not always been respected in European history, they are clearly the basic principles of today’s European Union. To sum it up, the Christian image of man has decisively formed our European value system.
Undoubtedly, the European Union of the 21st century is a great success. It is in particular an economic success. But the EU is more than the Euro and more than the biggest Common Market in the world. The EU is above all a Union of values. The treaty of Amsterdam clearly states in its article 6:“ The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. But even before Amsterdam codified these basic principles, the European Court of Justice had recognized these principles as a basis for its jurisdiction. The Court expressly defined these principles according to the European Convention of Human Rights which had already been adopted in 1950.
The European Treaties and the Court of Justice have recognized the basic rights, but they were never spelled out in any detail. Therefore, the European Council in Cologne in June 1999 asked a convention- composed of representatives of the fifteen governments, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the Commission to put down in a text the civil, political and social rights of the European citizens. The end result of the work of this convention- under the able chairmanship of former German President Roman Herzog- was solemnly proclaimed at the meeting of the European Council in Nice on December 7, 2000. The Charter of Basic Rights clearly confirms what I have tried to explain earlier: The Christian image of man is reflected in the value system of the European Union. Let me read a sentence from the preamble: „Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage , the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice“. The Charter is not yet part of the Treaty of the European Union. But a new Convention which will be constituted in a few days, will make proposals to this effect.
Ladies and gentlemen,
over the years the European Parliament has been a driving force behind efforts to continuously develop the European Union as an organization which not only respects fundamental rights, but also actively engages in the promotion of human rights worldwide. Both the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Citizens‘ Freedoms and Rights draw up annual reports for debate in plenary on the human rights situation inside and outside the EU. The advances in the EU’s human rights policy can largely be traced back to proposals set out in these reports. Human rights issues and, in particular, individual cases are dealt with in the monthly debates on urgent subjects and the governments involved are urged to take appropriate action.
Political dialogue is becoming an ever more important aspect of the EU’s external relations, and respect for human rights and democratic principles is now a key factor. It is thanks to the European Parliament’s persistence that the European Union systematically makes human rights clauses a central component of agreements with third countries – in the event of serious human rights violations, the relevant agreement can be suspended. Zimbabwe is a recent case where the suspension has been discussed.
Over the years, the European Parliament has been able to use its budgetary powers to substantially increase the resources earmarked for programmes dealing with democracy and human rights.
One final point: To attract the attention of the public even more the European Parliament in 1985 created the Sacharov prize. It has been awarded to personalities or organizations which have made a decisive contribution to the struggle for human rights and freedom in their respective countries. This prize which is clearly based on Christian values has been awarded to such outstanding people as Nelson Mandela, Alexander Dubcek and Ibrahim Rugova. At the heart of their activities has been the conviction that every human being, whatever their race, sex and convictions, has the right to total and absolute respect and dignity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the European Union is constantly facing new challenges. Important decisions have to be taken; difficult choices have to be made. In this situation it is essential for European politicians to have clear guidelines. Christian values which have been translated into the legal framework of the EU provide these guidelines. Let me give you a few examples.
The enlargement of the EU is certainly the most important challenge at the beginning of this century. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have successfully fought for their freedom and their right to rejoin the western part of the continent. Thus, it is a historic, political and moral obligation of the European Union to integrate these countries. It was doubtless Poland which played a decisive role in promoting the political, economic and social changes in the European landscape. And above all, it was the spiritual leadership of pope John Paul II, which laid the intellectual foundations for the revolution that spread all over Europe.
The European Parliament follows the negotiations with the future member states very closely, because it will be asked at the end to give its consent to the accession treaties. Candidate countries are very often in a weak position. Many times they confront a „take it or leave it“ situation. As a responsible parliamentarian I consider it my task to search for an equitable balance. It is our obligation to extend the same solidarity to our future members as that which we grant the economically weaker regions within the European Union.
Turkey is a specific case. It was the European Council in Helsinki which established an accession partnership with Turkey, welcomed by the European Parliament in its resolution of 15. November 2000. But since Turkey has not yet fulfilled all the Copenhagen criteria (which encompass the principles of democracy, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the rule of law) the membership negotiations could not yet begin. Turkey has to step up- and the European Parliament is very outspoken on this issue- its efforts to achieve democratisation, freedom of expression and the right of minorities. It has to recognize the basic rights of the cultural, linguistic and religious groups, who form part of Turkey’s multi-ethnic population.
Enlargement is of course not the only topic the European Parliament pays attention to. In general, all external relations of the EU are of deep concern. The Parliament must never hesitate to call a spade a spade and to clearly identify human rights violations wherever they may occur. And indeed we have been outspoken in situations where many might not have considered it appropriate to do so. The current improvement of our relations with Russia in my view is not a reason against raising human rights violations in Chechnya, but rather in favour of doing so.
I could give you many similar examples – human rights violations in the Middle East, death penalty in United States – but let me turn at the end of my intervention to a final subject – which is heavily debated in the European Parliament – Bioethics.
Again, a subject where we are in need of clear orientation. Difficult choices have to be made where Christian values can give us the right guidelines. The European Parliament a few weeks ago discussed at length the ethical, legal, economic and social implications of human genetics. Scientific research has opened up new possibilities for therapeutic medicine. At the same time, it is of the utmost importance that we define the limits beyond which research and applied medicine must not pass. Francesco Fiori, Italian member of my group in the European Parliament, had submitted an excellent report to the European Parliament, which tried to define these limits. His starting point was the principle that the sacred nature of human life and human dignity must not be affected by scientific progress. This report, backed by my party group, followed a restrictive line on human genetics experiments. At the end, the European Parliament, faced with unacceptable admendments which were attached to the Fiori report, did not agree on a resolution. But the Parliament nevertheless maintains a restrictive line. This means that no European money is spend to support research on cloning human beings. We must have full respect for human dignity in bio-medical research. All human beings must be protected through all steps of life from conception to natural death.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the European Union – as I tried to point out in my contribution – is above all a Union of shared values. I consider it as paramount that in our future efforts as responsible European politicians we relentlessly pursue our commitment for the promotion of human rights, freedom and justice within the European Union and beyond its borders.