In January 2017 I was assigned responsibility by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, for dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations (Article 17 TFEU).
Article 17 is a legal obligation, introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. It obliges the EU institutions to dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations on EU policies.
The Commission also carries out this dialogue where the First Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, has responsibility for it.
The dialogue is similar to the consultation with EU social partners such as trade unions and employer groups, also a Treaty obligation.
Since my appointment as Vice-President for Article 17 in January 2017 I have hosted a number of seminars, events and book discussions with both religious and non-confessional organisations. These events have covered issues from the future of Europe, to human rights, to the persecution of non-believers and artificial intelligence. These seminars are open to the public and web-streamed.
The events have been organised in consultation and agreement with the partners, both religious and non-confessional.
The Parliament is an open and transparent house. Democracy provides that voices from across the spectrum can make their views known to MEPs. Listening to someone’s point of view does not mean that you have to agree with them.
We’ve had a wide range of MEPs speaking at and participating in these events, MEPs representing different political viewpoints including those representing the Parliament’s Platform for Secularism in Politics.
The report of my activities and recommendations on Article 17 dialogue forms a normal part of the role of a Vice-President of the Parliament.
I conducted a broad consultation with Article 17 stakeholders on how we carry out the dialogue. All stakeholders – religious and non-confessional – were involved.
All stakeholders were invited to make written submissions, which was followed by a meeting open to all partners to discuss the written submissions.
There was a wide variety of suggestions made for ways in which to enhance the dialogue.
For example, in the European Commission’s own dialogue, Article 17 representatives are brought together with Commission officials working on specific legislative proposals to listen to their contributions.
The Parliament’s Legal Service was involved throughout to ensure that what was discussed and proposed would be fully in line with Treaty requirements.
The report was presented at the Parliament’s Bureau in April. The Bureau took note of the report and, as proposed, left it to the incoming Bureau to take any further steps.
As Vice-President in charge of the Parliament’s dialogue it is my responsibility to listen to the dialogue partners and to transmit back to the Bureau their comments and concerns.
Many national parliaments now engage with religious and non-confessional organisations. Indeed, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency has started its own Article 17 dialogue as it sees the intrinsic value of consulting with both religious and non-confessional organisations on fundamental rights.
At a time when we have seen an unfortunate increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, I believe such a dialogue is more important than ever. The recent devastating attacks on religious freedom in Christchurch, New Zealand and Sri Lanka also merit this dialogue.
This report is about improving the quality of the dialogue and foresees both sets of partners – religious and non-confessional – continuing to participate fully in all Article 17 activities.
It is customary for Vice-Presidents to draw up a report for the Bureau at the end of their mandate. From September 2014-January 2017, I was the Parliament’s mediator for International Parental Child Abduction, also a Vice-Presidency responsibility, and I drew up a report on my activities and made recommendations to the Parliament’s Bureau.