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Abstract

The aim of RelEP is to analyse the beliefs of the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and what they do as a consequence of these beliefs; the impact of religion on political socialisation within and between existing cleavages (national, party, denomina-tional); the way religiously-loaded issues are dealt with; how religion is (de)politicised in parliamentary activities and how it is used in various strategies to build coalitions or to gain visibility, to support or oppose European integration.
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Religion, State and Society
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Religion at the European Parliament:
an overview
François Foreta
a Institute for European Studies – CEVIPOL, Université Libre de
Bruxelles (ULB), Brussels, Belgium
Published online: 26 Aug 2014.
To cite this article: François Foret (2014): Religion at the European Parliament: an overview,
Religion, State and Society, DOI: 10.1080/09637494.2014.951529
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09637494.2014.951529
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Religion at the European Parliament: an overview
François Foret*
Institute for European Studies CEVIPOL, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Brussels, Belgium
Introduction
The aim of RelEP is to analyse the beliefs of the members of the European Parliament
(MEPs) and what they do as a consequence of these beliefs; the impact of religion on
political socialisation within and between existing cleavages (national, party, denomina-
tional); the way religiously loaded issues are dealt with; how religion is (de)politicised in
parliamentary activities and how it is used in various strategies to build coalitions or to
gain visibility, to support or oppose European integration.
This contribution presents the main findings of the RelEP survey based on aggregated
answers of the 167 MEPs who took the questionnaire. Case studies discuss the results
country by country and develop a comparison between MEPs and national political elites.
Thematic transversal topics are investigated in the conclusion.
1
In a nutshell, the RelEP survey highlights the fact that religion is still very national
and depends heavily on the domestic history of relationships between church and state,
between the spiritual and temporal realms. At the European Parliament (EP), religion is
neither a matrix framing individual or collective preferences nor a sufficient basis to
mobilise. It remains a significant symbolic resource of distinction to build a political and
media profile and to demarcate oneself from the competition. The most dramatic struggles
concerning religion now occur more in the transnational public sphere than in the
institutional space. In deliberative arenas and in decision-making processes, the occur-
rence of religion is discrete and elusive, but still tangible. It exists as a cultural back-
ground, a lobbying justified by the association of civil society to the definition of the
public good in a participatory democracy, and the expertise attributed to religious and
philosophical non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in terms of ethical affairs.
Religion as a political variable at the EP is most significant as a component of the
policy process and as a secondary identity. It is not acceptable as a discourse of self-
assertion and proselytism. It has to comply with the repertoires of action prevailing in
Brussels: technocratic arguments relying on a knowledge of issues which suggests the
one best wayto proceed; search for consensus in order to gather the largest coalition;
respect of pluralism and relativism as all particularities have to be integrated and all
normative preferences (identities, values) may have to be traded or at least downscaled.
Against this background, the challenge for religious and philosophical entrepreneurs is
twofold: first, to turn religious references into secular concepts capable of becoming
conveyors of their values and purposes (for example, human dignity); second, to use
*Email: fforet@ulb.ac.be
Religion, State & Society, 2014
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09637494.2014.951529
© 2014 Taylor & Francis
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secular principles to promote their views, sometimes by emphasising the religious roots of
these concepts (for example, subsidiarity).
Summary of the specific findings
Interviews with MEPs offer evidence that religion does have an effect on the functioning
of the EP. Interestingly, MEPs give more importance to it at the global level of the
institution and for their counterparts than for themselves. To a extent, religion matters
mainly for others. This is in congruence with the individualisation of the way to relate to
faith. Religious affairs are considered as too present or absent at the EP according to the
personal religiosity and personal religious belonging of a given politician.
The effects of religion are rather conservative: it confirms existing belongings on the
basis of nationality, political groups, denomination. MEPs are confronted with a greater
spiritual diversity in Brussels and Strasbourg than in their national political life, and also
experience different ways of relating to it; but at the same time they do not alter their own
views on religion. There is no massive resocialisation under the pressure of European
policy-making, but there may be adaptation to a new context and to new ways of
formulating religious claims and references.
Individually, MEPs say that they take religion into account rather infrequently. They
tackle it mostly as a policy issue, secondarily as a source of personal inspiration, and
thirdly through interest representation. Most frequently, then, religion arises not as a result
of choice but because it is there and has to be dealt with.
The assumption that the EP is besieged by religious lobbies is not confirmed by RelEP
data. MEPs say that their contacts with religious interest groups are limited to a few times
a year or a term; that is, less frequently than similar contacts at the level of national or
regional Parliaments. The structure of religious lobbying (who speaks with whom) reflects
the strength of national and denominational channels and issue networks.
Religion does not arise much as a specific policy issue, and MEPs do not support the
idea of a full religious policy for the EU. It emerges most in connection with and invoked
by questions of fundamental rights, culture and social issues. In short, both as an influence
and an object of public action, religion is mediated by other matters.
However, religion has a clear role as a constitutive element of identity. MEPs are
almost equally divided on whether there should be reference to the Christian heritage of
Europe in the treaties, and they also consider that religion has an impact in the relation-
ships of the EU with the rest of the world, and especially with Turkey.
As far as the personal beliefs of MEPs are concerned, we find that they present a
profile of cultural Christianslargely comparable to that of the citizens they represent
(with due caution because of the size of the sample and the frequent refusal to answer). A
large majority claims a religious belonging, a lesser number state that they are religious
persons, and an even smaller number that they are believers. The influence of their status
as representatives could explain both a concern not to hurt the feelings of religious parts of
the electorate, but also in some cases an outspoken atheism to assert a distinctive political
identity.
MEPs display a clear attachment to separation between religion and politics, whatever
institutional form such a separation may take. There is a consensus that there should be no
religious influence on the selection of political rulers. Opinions are more divided regard-
ing whether churches should make their voices heard on political options, as some
countries with a pluralist tradition favour the free expression of all private interests in
the formation of the public good and there is even less agreement on general principles
2F. Foret
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when it comes to practical applications. On questions requiring arbitration between the
neutrality of institutions or rules and individual freedom of choice (such as the right of a
nurse not to perform an abortion), MEPs are polarised.
We could summarise by saying that while there is not a high potential for conflicts and
cleavages on religious issues in themselves, there is a significant potential for the
politicisation of religiously loaded ethical or cultural issues.
The following paragraphs detail answers by MEPs on topics investigated by the
questionnaire: the impact of religion on the work of MEPs and on the functioning of
the EP; religion in the political practice and political socialisation of MEPs; religion across
policy sectors; individual religious beliefs, behaviours and attitudes of MEPs. As most
interviews were conducted in the native language of MEPs, English translations in the
quotations are ours.
Religion and the functioning of the EP: an effect perceived diversely
When MEPs are asked to assess the influence of religion (deliberately defined as a
unspecified parameter)
2
on the functioning of the EP, almost a two-thirds majority
(63.2%) state that religion does indeed have an effect.
Interestingly enough, MEPs who define themselves as non-religious or atheist are
keener to consider that religion plays a role at the EP. Conversely, MEPs seeing them-
selves as religious minimise that role. This suggests that religion is more visible to those
who are foreign or hostile to it, while believers may consider that its role at the EP is
insufficient in view of the role it plays in their individual lives.
Perceptions of the role of religion always depend on the personal feelings and
situation of an MEP. Denominational belonging also matters. Protestants (especially
German and British MEPs) resent a Catholic bias in European decision-making.
Orthodox (especially Romanians) think that religion is too elusive and regret that it is
not taken into account enough.
The comparison of the presence of religion at the EP and in other Parliaments is made
possible by another international survey, PartiRep.
3
This survey investigates members of
60 national and regional Parliaments in 15 European countries (including Israel). Its
geographical scope thus largely overlaps with that of RelEP. Overall, 80.8% of regional
and national MPs consider that the presence of religion in their Parliament is not at all or
not very important; 19.2% think that it is fairly (16.7%) or very important. The presence
of regional representatives could in some countries downscale the salience of religion, but
in others (like Germany), religious issues and actors are very significant in territorial
politics. As two-thirds of MEPs consider that religion has an effect at the EP but rather a
weak one, the pictures in national and European assemblies are not too different. Many
MEPs express their surprise at, and sometimes their disapproval of, the visibility of
religion, as they are not used in their own political culture to its outspoken expression
by colleagues or lobbies.
Religion confirms existing belongings
The effect of religion on the functioning of the EP is mediated partly by its role in the
formation of various political belongings and loyalties: political groups; nationality;
denomination.
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Political groups: the resilience of ideological proximity to/distance from religion
Many MEPs (42.4%) consider that religion reinforces the identity of each political group
(a slightly larger number (43.1%) think that it has no effect, while a few (14.6%) mention
its possible harmful impact on political cohesion). This picture must be nuanced by the
recognition that religion has different meanings according to which political group is
being considered. Many MEPs believe that Christianity strengthens the unity of the
European Peoples Party (EPP) thanks to the heritage of Christian Democracy.
However, by no means all the parties composing the EPP are rooted in this ideological
history despite the recent refocusing following the departure of the British Conservatives.
Besides, some ultra-conservative Christians consider that the Christianity displayed by the
EPP is too weak and unfocused and leaves too much room for liberal drift. As one MEP
from the Front National states: There is a Christian Democratic group which, at the
political level at least, instead of Christianisingdemocracy, has only democratised
Christianity; that is not the same thing at all.For the other major groups, the effects are
bound to be more peripheral. Some Socialists and Democrats think that religion blurs
political belongings, maybe by dissimulating actual socio-economic cleavages in echo of
a long distrust regarding the opiate of the people. Within the Socialists and Democrats
(S&D), some parties may have histories of antagonism against the church while others
may be sympathetic with the social teaching of Christian organisations; but most are
simply indifferent or non-aligned. Similarly, MEPs from the Alliance of Liberals and
Democrats for Europe (ALDE) are mostly not concerned about religion. In some cases,
they may be polarised: between defence of religious liberties and the fight for freedom of
speech, two possible competitive causes; or between economic liberalism in alliance with
economic materialistic forces on the one hand, and cultural and social liberalism where
they mix with progressive religious forces against the excesses of the markets on the other.
At the extremes, the situation is more contrasted: from forces promoting national,
European or Western identities rooted in Christendom or pagan visions to fiercely antic-
lerical leftist formations.
Nationality: the weight of the past
The second belonging/loyalty to which religion may contribute is nationality. The RelEP
survey asks whether religion has a different importance depending on nationality.
Nationality is not an explicit basis on which to mobilise at the EP, but can be a transversal
determinant: all MEPs of the same country can be predisposed to adopt the same attitude
towards religion, both because of a path dependence on the historical model of church
state relations and because of a compliance with the mainstream orientation of the
electorate. Nationality also interacts with party belonging. MEPs of the same nationality
in the same political family are likely to share a common ideological posture towards
religion and to react similarly to religiously loaded issues. However, MEPs of the same
nationality inside a single political group at the EP can belong to different national parties
with different historical relationships to religion (see the Italians in the EPP, for example,
with more or less proximity to the former Italian party Democrazia Cristiana (Christian
Democracy). Interferences with denominational belonging also matter. In some cases,
MEPs of the same nationality can belong to different religious groups, the denominational
cleavages having a political meaning. A famous example from Northern Ireland is the
pastor Ian Paisley, who was an MEP from 1979 to 2004.
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Almost all MEPs (82.8%) say that religion does indeed have a different importance
according to nationality; this confirms the crucial importance of nationality as the main
factor of discrimination in European politics, a fact extensively documented by studies
both of political actors and of ordinary citizens. Like other variables, religion is con-
strained by the overriding rule of national belonging. A British Liberal respondent
expressed this bluntly by a personal reinterpretation of a question in the survey: What
is a personal God? A belief in God is usually a belief in the god of the country you were
born in, so it is not personal, but a communityGod.
Religion is often said in qualitative interviews with MEPs to create notable differences
between representatives of new and old member-states, the former being more religious
than the latter. This gap is confirmed to a certain extent by cross-tabulations assessing the
specificity of the answers of MEPs from countries of the 2004 and 2007 enlargements.
Representatives from Eastern Europe do find more than their Western counterparts that
there is a big difference between the place of religion in European politics and its place in
national politics. They think that religious issues are not given the same attention in
Brussels as they are at home. They also differ on the symbolic way to relate to religion.
They regret the lack of reference to the Christian heritage of Europe in the Lisbon Treaty,
and they approve of the dialogue of the president of the EP with religious leaders. They
fare significantly less on the scale of cultural liberalism.
However, this distinction between representatives of new and old member-states may
profitably be examined more closely. National, political and religious belongings are
intertwined. MEPs from new member-states are more on the right side of the political
scale than their Western European counterparts, and thus more likely to have a greater
proximity to religion and a greater conservatism on religion-related issues. This does not
mean, however, that Eastern European MEPs feel less European rather the contrary or
are less supportive of European integration. This is confirmed by a survey of MEPs
conducted in 2010:
The MEPs from the new member states in the current EP are on average more right wing than
the MEPs from the old member states. However, the two groups of MEPs have statistically
indistinguishable opinions on EU regulatory powers, EU powers and the powers of the EP,
although MEPs from new member states have a stronger European identity than MEPs from
the EU15. (Hix, Scully, and Farrell 2011,11)
Denomination: noticeable theological differences intertwined with national specificities
Overall, MEPs deny the existence of major cleavages between different faiths. Of MEPs,
66.7% do not see differences among those who are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or
from other religions. The 33.3% who think that there are gaps between faiths tend to be
non-religious or from minority denominations. Again, a belief in the divisive effects of
religion is characteristic of a personal distance from religion or of a feeling of being
disrespected.
Effects of theological differences are difficult to distinguish from the influence of
nationality. A British MEP is struck by the propensity of Catholics to go publicfar more
easily than at home in the UK, suggesting that the presence of colleagues of other
nationalities belonging to the same denomination may have an emancipatory effect on
expressing ones preference. Conversely, people of the same denominational group may
voice different priority concerns according to their nationality. German Catholics will be
more focused on economic issues related to religion; Italian Catholics will be particularly
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involved in debates on the more or less liberal way of dealing with religion in the public
space. Here, the discriminating factor is not only the national political culture but also the
domestic agenda, the two being naturally interconnected. German MEPs keep a vigilant
eye on the fiscal status of German churches; Italian politicians cannot forget the con-
troversy on religious signs in classrooms raging after the ruling of the European Court of
Human Rights. When it comes to identifying the nationalities which are the most marked
by religion, the cleavage between new and old member-states disappears: Irish and Polish
MEPs are the usual suspects, frequently designated jointly.
Religion and political practice in the EP
Another dimension of the research tackles religion in the political practice and political
socialisation of MEPs. The interplay of religion with politics is to be understood in two
ways: first, in terms of the frequency with which an MEP takes religion into account; and
second, in terms of the form of that interplay, which determines its potential effect: as a
source of personal inspiration, or as a focus on a specific issue, or as an interest group or
other manifestations.
MEPs are also asked to compare the place of religion in the EP with their
experience in domestic politics in their home country. The European institutions
have a limited capacity to alter the personal preferences of their agents, and the EP
is not likely to change the views of MEPs on the relationships between religion and
politics. A final dimension of religion in the political socialisation of MEPs refers to
religious (or philosophical) lobbying. The frequency of interactions between MEPs
and religious or secular interest groups
4
is a good indicator of the ability of religious
civil society to maintain a sphere of social interactions that may nurture a common
world view.
Various manifestations of the interplay between religion and politics in the EP
A low level of taking religion into account: two explanations
A large majority of MEPs (66.7%) say that they rarely (47.1%) or never (19.6%) take
religion into account; one third of MEPs do take it into account often or permanently. This
confirms religion as an at best occasional issue in the activity of an MEP. However, this
contrasts with the finding that 63.2% of MEPs say that religion has an effect on the
functioning of the EP. Two explanations can be proposed for this apparent discrepancy.
The first explanation is that religion is thought to work for the othersor as a social
factor independent of the personal preferences of MEPs. This is not so remote from the
view, documented by sociology, of religion as serving as vicarious memory/identity or as
a commodity, a public good playing a necessary role in social life without involving an
individual commitment.
The second explanation of the low level of acknowledgment of religion as an element
in personal political practice is the dominant representation that political and religious
affairs must be kept separated. This is a leitmotiv in off-the-record comments by MEPs.
The perceived common European common principle of laïcité, understood in the
minimal sense of separation between the spiritual and secular fields, may prevent MEPs
from testifying that they take religion into account. This is illustrated further by the fact
that almost half of MEPs thinking of themselves as religious persons say that they rarely
integrate religion into their practice.
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Diversity of forms for the occurrence of religion
An investigation of the forms in which MEPs take religion into account shows a diverse
picture. Of MEPs, 38.2% say that they tackle religion as a social and political reality,
31.2% see it in terms of personal inspiration and 19.2% see it in terms of an interest
group. Other occasions on which religion may arise as an issue include actions by other
MEPs or contacts by religious individuals with their MEPs as their representatives. This
picture consolidates the idea that religion may willy-nilly be an issue on the plate of an
MEP independently of his or her opinion on the subject. Religion has to be dealt with if a
policy or political matter calls for a decision to be made. At the same time, religion is also
salient as personal inspiration, in congruence with its contemporary role as a reservoir of
meaning and a set of values offered often in free use to believers or non-believers.
Finally, religion is also noticeable through interest representation. However, this is the
least prevalent form of influence, and this fact qualifies the representation of the EP as
besieged by religious lobbies, as it is sometimes depicted in the press of countries with a
vision of the public good as the monopoly of the state, such as France.
The different ways MEPs relate to religion may also simply result from their hetero-
geneous conceptions of their mandate. Indeed, MEPs play their roles in diverse ways
according to their level of commitment, their political loyalty and other factors (Navarro
2009). The MEP acting as a protester against the way the EU works has more chance and
incentives to mobilise religion as a protest resource. The MEP depicting himself as an
animator bringing his intellectual contribution to the conceptualisation of European
policies also has opportunities to find potential inspiration in religion. The MEP claiming
to be a specialist knowing everything about the institutional cogs of decision-making has
little chance to rely on spiritual matters. Nor do the MEPs whose core business is to act as
go-between between their electors, organised interests and European institutions, except if
religious motivations frame the agenda of their constituency.
When religion acts as a source of personal inspiration, it is not with a high frequency
but rather at critical junctures, when a representative has to make difficult choices
implying deep value judgments. Then, more often than not, what comes into play is not
religion as a doctrine to comply with, but the moral teaching underlying it and offering
keys to making up ones mind. As a Czech member of the EPP says: Religion has a
minimal influence contrary to moral values which come from it. I am influenced by
religion but not blindly, only on issues in rupture with fundamental Catholic teachings
(cloning . . .).
European socialisation of MEPs and religion: a transformative experience?
What is new in Brussels and Strasbourg? Diversity and pluralism
There are distinct ways of relating to religion at the national and European levels.
Almost half of MEPs (45.4%) consider that the place of religion at the EP is different
from their experience of it in national politics. The proportion that disagree is 31.6% and a
significant number (23%) do not know, either because they may have no experience in
national politics or have not encountered the religious issue enough at the EP to be able to
form an opinion. A discriminatory factor to explain the view of MEPs is their national
model of articulation between politics and religion. Those from countries with denomina-
tional diversity and a tradition of cooperation between religious and political powers are
less likely to be surprised by what they see in Brussels and Strasbourg. MEPs who do
think that religion plays a different role at the EP than in national politics tend more than
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averagely to consider that religion has an influence in the functioning of the EP. They also
tend to be non-religious or atheists. What is surprising in Brussels, then, is the impact of
religion, not its discretion (except for some MEPs of new member-states who regret the
secularism of the EU).
There is a consensus (84.7%) among MEPs that their experience at the EP has not
changed their view on the link between religion and politics. The absence of impact of
socialisation at the EP is not surprising as it is congruent with the general inability of
European institutions to alter in-depth the preferences of their agents (Ban 2013; Kassim
et al. 2013; Scully 2005). Among the rare examples of MEPs who have changed their
views once in Brussels, there are two opposite and extreme profiles: some are struck less
by the strong influence of religion than by the activism of devout colleagues, and are thus
led to a greater vigilance to protect secularism; by contrast, others become fighters for
God, finding in their confrontation with European materialism new reasons to fight for
their beliefs and fresh energy to do so. This phenomenon of reawakeningon both sides
is however very limited in our sample of MEPs.
One common explanation for the limited potential for re-socialisation in Brussels is
the significant turnover between one EP term and the next. Roughly speaking, half or
more of MEPs do not come back to the EP after an election. European elections are still
seen as second-order elections, with second-order candidates selected more for national
purposes than for their European expertise.
However, regarding religion, lesser forms of socialisation than alteration of prefer-
ences can be observed. A kind of apprenticeship for a new MEP might be to learn how to
disagree and to express his or her own beliefs in a pluralistic and rational way in order to
build multicultural coalitions. A way for a religious MEP or party to comply with the rules
coming with the Brussels territory is to have two agendas: on the one hand, to keep ones
strong political stances for symbolic issues upon which there are no direct European
competencies and for media arenas; and on the other hand, to cut deals and to abstain
from blocking the functioning of the assembly. This behaviour is frequently the one
chosen by political-religious entrepreneurs in American parliamentary politics.
Religious lobbying
The MEPs and the lobbies: not so frequent interactions
Representation of religious interests in European arenas has developed since the 1990s.
Interactions between religious (or secular) organisations and MEPs are relatively com-
mon, although not particularly intense. For the majority of MEPs, it is a matter of a few
times a year (34.9%) or a few times a term (22.4%). Only a significant minority (21%) are
in touch with religious actors on a very regular basis, once a month or more. A sizable
group (15.8%) has no contact at all, being either disinvested in their mandate, or avoided
by religious actors because of their reputation as hostile or indifferent, or simply repre-
sentatives of tiny nations which slip through the net.
It comes as no surprise that MEPs who are the most assiduous interlocutors with
religious groups are those who are the more convinced of the influence of religion on the
EP and those who say that they are religious persons. There is no evidence that exposure
to religious lobbying leads to transformation of the views of a given MEP. Those who say
that they have frequent contacts with faith organisations do not change their conceptions
of the relations between religion and politics (probably also because they are committed to
religion and hold firm ideas on its status). This is a limitation of the possible effect of
8F. Foret
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socialisation of MEPs through lobbying. At the same time, density of exchanges with
religious lobbies demarcates party boundaries: politicians from the EPP are clearly the
keenest interlocutors with religious civil society.
The reaction to religious lobbying depends heavily on the level of legitimacy given by
MEPs to lobbying in general, and this last element is heavily dependent upon national
political culture. Politicians used to a pluralist system of interest representation, where
different sectoral elites mix freely and can contribute to the formation of the common will,
differ from those coming from more monolithic traditions which aim to produce collective
preferences under the supervision of the state and/or of political parties. As one British
MEP says, Everybody can influence politics like lobbyists, religion included; French
MEPs are keen to disagree on both points, lobbying in general and religious lobbying in
particular. Another concern is about the representativeness of lobbying, questioning the
social constituency of European civil society. Some MEPs resent religious interest
representation as a channel for extremists more than for balanced and rational spiritual
inputs. One British MEPs comments: The only time I have contact with faith groups is by
extremists telling scary stories, that the EU is going to ban abortion, etc. The EU does not
have such power, but that does not stop self-interested organisations.
Again, to assess the specificity of MEPs in their relationships with religious lobbies,
findings of another survey on national and regional Parliaments are instrumental.
According to the PartiRep research, 25.4% of representatives at national and infra-national
levels have contacts with churches or religious organisations (philosophical organisations
are not included) at least once a month (as compared with 21% of MEPs), 46.1% of local
and national MPs have interactions with religious lobbies at least once a year (compared
with 34.9% of MEPs (22.4% of MEPs have contacts a few times over a year)), 28.5% of
regional and national politicians have (almost) no contact with religious interest groups
(compared with 15.8% of MEPs who do not speak to religious groups). To sum up,
European representatives seem slightly less assiduous in interacting with religious groups
than their national and regional counterparts, even if fewer of them totally ignore such
groups. This could be a sign that the EP is an open arena where politicians are confronted
with a religious diversity they are not used to encountering in national spaces, but that
they do not rub shoulders with religious lobbies so frequently.
Varieties of lobbies and channels of contact
In order to identify which organisations MEPs are in touch with, a list of religious NGOs
or NGOs with a religious dimension taken in spring 2010 from the register of the EP
where NGOs enlist on a voluntary basis was submitted to interviewees.
5
Other structures
were mentioned spontaneously by MEPs. It is difficult to categorise these organisations,
as the first striking element is the diversity of their natures, scopes, resources and
purposes. This heterogeneity is constitutive of a pluralistic and atomistic setting of
representation of religious interests, as an analysis of the dialogue between religious
civil society and the EC can confirm (Foret 2009, 2750). Their main features can
however be highlighted.
The domination of Catholicism is obvious. COMECE, the commission of the Catholic
national episcopates, is by far the most frequently quoted organisation dedicated entirely
to religious lobbying (22.2%). The second major organisation, CEC-KEK (the Conference
of European Churches), associating notably Protestants and Orthodox, is far behind
COMECE (8.1%). The low profile of Protestantism is slightly counterbalanced by a
flotilla of small entities which are mentioned a few times or once, which reflects the
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de-institutionalised nature of this denomination. A relative surprise may be the visibility
of Jewish organisations (EUROJEWCONG European Jewish Congress; CEJI (Centre
Européen Juif dInformation)). These organisations may have a rather low public profile
and a tiny social constituency but are well-connected and efficient in their strategy of
relationships with European institutions in general and MEPs in particular. Orthodox
Christians and above all Muslims are almost invisible, in contrast with their demographic
weight in European populations. The humanists do not feature too badly considering the
huge asymmetry of resources they have compared to the Catholic Church.
The second major feature is the prevalence of organisations whose main purpose is not
directly the diffusion of a religious message but rather to work in the name of spiritual
ideals to achieve charitable purposes. The NGO which is the most frequent interlocutor of
MEPs is Caritas, an international network of Catholic charities with national branches and
forms of presence in almost 200 countries worldwide. ATD Quart Monde, a movement
founded by a Catholic priest but bringing together people of different denominational and
philosophical backgrounds, also scores highly. Other structures dedicated to good
causes, like CCME (the ChurchesCommission for Migrants in Europe) or Islamic
Relief Worldwide, also feature quite frequently. This salience of charities with an under-
lying religious dimension is a reminder that in the functionalist and highly rationalised
European decision-making process and in the multicultural political arena it is easier to
mobilise to defend human rights with the language of expertise than to do proselytising
with an argumentation rooted in values.
It is also worth noting that national and even local organisations are mentioned
spontaneously several times by MEPs. Of course, these entities are generally quoted
only a few times or just once as they have relationships with a smaller number of
MEPs, with limitations linked to the nationality or territory of those MEPs.
Nevertheless, these national/local organisations have for the same reasons very intimate
and close interactions with theirMEPs, they have a possible electoral weight for the
re-election of those MEPs and may enjoy a greater influence than big pan-European
federations.
Salience of religion according to policy sectors and topics
Policy sectors
Analysed as an issue set on the European agenda through the declarations of MEPs,
religion has an unequal importance according to policy sectors. It is at its highest
importance in fields related to fundamental rights: against discrimination and promoting
freedom of expression. It is also prominent in social policy as this refers frequently to
problems such as human dignity or gender equality, and encompasses also relief to the
poor and various forms of solidarity and welfare which are not explicitly framed in terms
of human rights but lead to them through the discourse of religious duty to assist fellow
human beings. Culture and education is another important sector. This may overlap to
some extent with freedom of expression as the question of the place of religion in the arts
or sciences may arise; more broadly, it concerns the place of religion in society and the
definition and transmission of collective identities. The last significant sector is interna-
tional relations. Here, incentives are the influence of religion on the relationships of
Europe with the rest of the world, solidarity with Christian minorities worldwide and
above all risks associated with religious extremisms, mostly Islamic.
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Looking for trouble
Independently from the competencies of the EP, the salience of religion could be
explained in some cases by its potential for scandalisation. Since the introduction of
universal suffrage in 1979, the EP has met its limits by its inability to offer an attractive
political drama able to catch the headlines. Political action at the EP is considered too
complicated, not bipolarised enough (majority/opposition; left/right) in order to create a
gladiatorial-style of debate with winners and losers, and not animated by notorious
spokespersons with a real human interest(Abélès 1992). Besides, the EP is a victim
of the structure of national public opinion as far as Europe is concerned: where there is a
clear consensus on European integration, one does not speak of Europe as there is nothing
to say; where there is dissensus on European integration, one does not speak of Europe as
it would be counterproductive to create divides on what is a secondary issue (Morgan
1999, 91). Religion may be a way to raise interest and to polarise both political actors and
media without harming decision-making as it is mainly out of the realm of the EU.
Religious topics may thus be a symbolic resource to fuel controversy and to build a high
public profile relatively easily. The Buttiglione affair in 2004 is a good example of such
an instrumental function of religion. That occurred in the field of fundamental rights; but
it can also occur in such fields as external relations (the protection of a Christian minority
for example) or education (the threat of creationism for example). In short, religion may
become suddenly relevant in any policy sector provided that it has a potential for
scandalisation.
An EU policy on religion?
For MEPs, religion is not an autonomous policy issue justifying a specific European
process of public action. 72% oppose the idea that the EU should develop a real policy
towards religion. They comply with the rule of subsidiarity leaving religion in the hands
of the member-states. Another survey (Hix, Scully, and Farrell 2011, 20) nevertheless
shows that MEPs support the extension of European competencies in the matter of
fundamental rights, including religion. Of the MEPs questioned by Hix and his collea-
gues, 61% consider that there should be a lot more (30.8%) or a little more (30.2%) EU-
wide regulation on discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion, age, disability
and sexual orientation (25% are happy with the curent level of regulation and 13.9%
would like to see a little less or a lot less). This confirms that MEPs see religion as an
object among many others to be dealt with in the extensive action of the EU for a
progressive agenda.
Religion as identity resource
Divisions on the Christian heritage of Europe
Identity, culture and memory policies are fields where religion is very salient. Since the
2000s there has been an (ongoing) debate on the mention of the Christian heritage of
Europe in the preambles to the defunct European Constitution and to the Lisbon Treaty.
Member-states were unable to reach a consensus so silence finally prevailed. Campaigns
in favour of the recognition of the Christian heritage continue in a subdued way. This is
more than a quarrel about memory. Emphasising what Europe owes to Christianity is a
way to enable churches to have a say in the contemporary debates on the finalities and
modalities of European integration. MEPs are almost equally divided as far as the
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reference to the Christian heritage in treaties is concerned. A small majority (50.3%)
support the status quo by rejecting such a reference. The promoters of the Christian
heritage also overwhelmingly advocate the need for the EU to have a specific religious
policy. A commitment in favour of religion as symbolic resource is thus coupled with a
commitment to tackle religion directly as a European issue. The Christian heritage is
supported mostly by Catholics. MEPs of other denominations are far less keen. Minority
denominations may be put off by the propensity to assimilate Christian heritageto
Roman Catholic legacy, a reproach frequently heard in Brussels about the way religion
should be considered in the history of Europe.
Religion constitutive of Europeannessin the relationship with Turkey and the world
Cultural identity is always the most asserted in situations of confrontation with otherness.
The application of Turkey, a large Muslim country, to enter the EU is the most telling
example. A very large majority of MEPs (77.2%) say that religion has indeed framed the
way the Turkish candidature has been dealt with in the EU, although it is not an official
parameter. For some MEPs, the problem may be not that Turkey is a Muslim country but
how it protects religious liberties. However, in many of the qualitative interviews, the
cultural argument is recurrent. The influence attributed to religion in the Turkey issue an
influence greater than on external relations in general is a sign that religion has an
increasing salience as soon as the limits and the nature of the European political commu-
nity are at stake and the question of defining what is means to be European arises.
MEPs are also divided but to a lesser extent when it comes to estimating whether
or not religion plays a role in the external relations of the EU (57.6% yes, 42.4% no).
Religion surfaces in several ways: as a core cultural element underlying relationships
between civilisations; as a basis for diplomatic solidarity with minorities of the same
denominations (referring to the role of the EU as the protector of Christian minorities
oppressed worldwide); or, most frequently, as a cause of political violence, terrorism and
war when it is expressed in extremist forms: here Islam is mainly targeted as responsible
for religious excesses.
Recognition of religion as a partner of good governance
A final occurrence of religion as a policy issue is about the regular meetings of the
president of the EP with representatives of major European religions to discuss current
affairs. This practice has raised heated controversies, secular MEPs denouncing the
principle of the meeting itself and its discretionary character, or claiming that philosophi-
cal traditions should also be associated in this consultation. In response, successive
presidents of the EP and their supporters argue that such a dialogue is simply an
application of Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, which establishes a regular, open and
transparent dialogue with religious and philosophical actors. So far, the preference of the
authorities has been to hold a separate meeting with secularists. According to the RelEP
results, 88.4% of MEPs approve of these meetings with major religions. However, while
this political dialogue enjoys large agreement, it seems invested with different meanings
and with different intensity according to the religious profile of the MEP concerned.
While most agree with the practice as a harmless and largely useless part of consultation
with civil society, some reject it as a sign of the excessive and dangerous influence of
religion, and others defend it adamantly, with great expectations.
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Religious beliefs and attitudes of MEPs: not so different from those of average
Europeans
A last part of the research tackles the religious beliefs, practices and attitudes of MEPs.
Questions are borrowed from international values surveys that provide a standard against
which to compare the religious profile of MEPs with those of the European citizens who
elect them. MEPs are asked to self-define whether or not they belong to a denomination,
which one, their (non-) observance, the kind of religiosity they have (belief in a personal
God, a life force . . .), and their attitude towards selective indicators of cultural liberalism
regarding the place of religion in society. The purpose is to see if their answers reflect the
mainstream social reality of religion in their respective home countries.
Two hypotheses: European democracy as the conservation of religion or with a
secularist bias?
Using the results, we can test two hypotheses.
The first hypothesis is that MEPs may display a higher religiosity than the rest of the
population and national rulers. This could be a result of their mode of election which
leaves room for traditional religious parties despite a shrinking social constituency.
Indeed, proportional electoral systems do not oblige parties to enter into coalitions before
the elections and allow the expression of ideological diversity.
The second hypothesis is that, on the contrary, the EU and especially the EP present a
secularist bias. This could reflect the usual critical distance of European elites from
religion (Berger et al. 2008). It could be a result of the rationalisation implied by
European policymaking, with the prevalence of expertise and public reason to justify
decisions and the strategic necessity for compromise and coalition-building on the
smallest common denominator. The EP amplifies still more this trend towards rationalisa-
tion because of the imperative to search for consensus in the absence of structuring
majority/opposition cleavages (or even a clear demarcation between conservatives and
progressives). Thus, strong normative (and hence divisive) resources like religion would
be banned from the EP, and this would also impact on the selection of candidates.
The two hypotheses can coexist. Religion could be distanced from the actual function-
ing of the EP (second hypothesis) but be mobilised as a symbolic and rather harmless
repertoire in order to affirm a political specificity inside the EP and offer reassurance to
electorates traumatised by social changes provoked by European integration. Inside the
EP, political entrepreneurs could build positions and audiences on religious issues thanks
to dramatic postures while playing the game of bargaining. Outside the EP, party
manifestos and campaign discourses may use religion as a cultural raw material to reassert
national identity and pride to counterbalance the compliance with functional requirements
of European integration. Religion may play the role of a memory ensuring the feeling of
continuity and thus make Europeanisation more acceptable.
MEPs as cultural Christians, belonging without necessarily believing
It is first necessary to underline a possible bias: that MEPs with religious convictions were
more motivated to answer personal questions, and that many declined because they saw
their religious beliefs as part of their private sphere that should not be expressed in public.
Others feared possible political uses of their answers despite promises that they would be
kept anonymous. The findings thus suggest a qualified picture of the religiosity of MEPs.
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Almost three quarters (72%) of all the MEPs who agreed to answer claim that they
belong to a religious denomination, but only 62.2% say that they are religious persons,
and only 55% say that they believe in a personal god or some sort of spirit or life force.
Many do not even answer the question on attendance at religious services, but the level of
religious observance is clearly smaller. This means that MEPs are a group where belong-
ing without believing is verified, and still more belonging without practising. This
observation illustrates the notion of vicarious religionformulated by Grace Davie.
Religion has no personal implication, but it is considered as a kind of public utility, a
useful social institution that is just there; it may well not be used, but it is kept in case of
need and for the sake of memory. In this respect, MEPs are not exceptional. Most cultural
Christiansacknowledge that Christianity is part of their personal culture but consider its
implications for political decision and action with great caution. It is the same for MEPs.
Those claiming a religious belonging do not necessarily have a stronger assessment of the
effect of religion on the functioning of the EP than those who do not do so (actually rather
the contrary: atheists think that religion is too influential). MEPs denying any religious
belonging are keener to see religion as a source of divisions, especially between denomi-
nations. Conversely, representatives claiming a religious belonging emphasise religious as
a factor of unity. In short, the more you belong, the more you see religion positively.
To compare MEPs of the sample with their political constituencies, we used data from
international values surveys on populations of thirteen countries (the countries of the
MEPs who answered questions on personal beliefs) (see Table 1). On this basis, we
observe that the 62.2% of MEPs defining themselves as religious persons correspond
exactly to the proportion of European citizens who give the same answer. Still, there is a
difference. Among MEPs, fewer respondents say that they keep to a moderate line in
order to avoid offending some electors about religion; but they may also take firm stances
if they choose to build a political profile on atheism to attract public attention.
Cultural liberalism of MEPs and ethical issues
Some questions aim at measuring the level of cultural liberalism of MEPs. Indicators
focus on the place of religion in the political space and in the selection of rulers and on
ethical issues calling for public regulation. The underlying interrogation is whether
European decision-makers may be likely to promote a strongly progressive agenda on
socio-cultural issues, and whether it may influence European norms in these matters.
Overall, MEPs present a certain level of cultural liberalism and an attachment to
pluralism and the right for everyone to express ones own belief. There is a large
consensus (83.9%) among MEPs to say noto the proposition that politicians who do
not believe in God are unfit for public office. Clearly, faith is not a legitimate element in
Table 1. Question: independently of whether you go to church or not, how would you define
yourself?
Answer
MEPs (data RelEP, n=114
7
)
Percentage (number of answers)
Total population (EU13, data
EVS (20052006))
8
I am a religious person 62.2% (71) 62.2%
I am not a religious person 19.3% (22) 29.5%
I am a convinced atheist 18.4% (21) 8.3%
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the selection of rulers. This does not come as a surprise, but it illustrates a difference with
other regions of the world where the personal religiosity of rulers is still a key parameter.
6
However, faith is not seen as a negative factor. 46% disagree with the proposition that it
would be better for Europe if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office;
but 25% agree and another 25% are dont knows; this suggests a relative openness.
There is massive opposition to seeing religion as a normative source of authority likely to
exercise any form of constraint, but there is no rejection a priori of religion as a possible
source of inspiration. The logic is similar concerning the political role of religious leaders.
A majority of MEPs consider that religious leaders should influence neither how people
vote in elections (61.1%) nor government decisions (52.4%); but on both points, around a
quarter hold the opposite view. In short, MEPs show a large degree of support for a
separation between politics and religion, a separation rooted in most national systems
under different institutional forms. To this restricted extent, it is possible to speak of
something like a European laïcité. Meanwhile, a small group is still in favour of a more
active presence of religion in political decisions. More MEPs are wary about the influence
of religious leaders on voting in elections than about their influence on government
decision-making; indeed, as a participatory democracy, the EU offers channels of dialogue
to religious and philosophical communities, and such processes materialise the possibility
of legitimised religious influence.
The dominant reluctance towards any form of authoritarian presence of religion in
politics cannot be assimilated to a total rejection of religion. When it comes to dealing
with the practice of individual liberty to choose how to reconcile ones own beliefs with
professional duties, MEPs are on a permissive side: 52.3% agree that if a nurse were asked
to help perform a legal abortion, she or he should be allowed to refuse on religious
grounds; 32.9% disagree. Recognition of freedom of choice, linked to the core business
of the EU to protect fundamental rights, secures a majority, but opinions are more widely
distributed on this issue, from strong agreement to strong disagreement, than on any other
issue. It is useful to compare RelEP findings with results from another survey of MEPs
including one question on abortion. According to a study (Hix, Scully, and Farrell 2011,
19) based on the answer of 172 respondents, 65.7% of MEPs support the right of women
to decide for themselves about abortion; 15.7% disagree or disagree strongly and 18.6%
neither agree nor disagree. This means that free choice on abortion is denied or at least
uncertain for one third of MEPs: that is a substantial proportion, and the pro-life
minority is likely to be active. Answers of MEPs on abortion are more liberal than on
other issues like the decriminalisation of marijuana or the reduction of restrictions on
immigration. Abortion may be considered as a fundamental right for European women
more written in stone than cultural practices that may be part of youth culture or policy
decisions on regulating population movement, but still not totally consensual. Overall,
MEPs do not show particularly striking levels of cultural liberalism as they strongly
support tougher action against criminals and are rather split when it comes to arbitrating
between the defence of welfare spending and the necessity to raise taxes (Hix, Scully, and
Farrell 2011, 19).
MEPs as a progressive and secular but not anti-religious elite
Some MEPs are fierce supporters of secularism, to the point that they decline to answer a
questionnaire about religion, considering it as already a violation of the circumscription of
religion in the private sphere. According to one Belgian MEP, Religion must be kept in
ones private life. That is the only answer I can give you. To answer this questionnaire
Religion, State & Society 15
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would be against my rules and against my vision of things. The separation between
church and state is at this cost.
Other MEPs are simply concerned about the pressure from religion, which is felt to
operate more strongly at the European level than at the national level, especially in very
secularised and/or secular countries. According to one Czech Social Democrat, The
Czech Republic is a secular country; that is not the case for the EU where religion
plays a more important role than it should.Comments by MEPs show that the distinction
is frequently fuzzy between secularism (separation between religion and politics or
between church and state) and secularisation (loss of relevance and mutation of religion),
between evolution of the state and of society.
Most MEPs, however, seem to hold a moderate position regarding religion. Most of
them take little or no account of religion in their routine work. When confronted with
necessary choices on fundamental issues, they express a clear preference for a mild
secularism ensuring separation between religion and politics and respect for individual
rights, but with possible arrangements to accommodate personal preferences. The tricky
question is the extent of these arrangements: that is, the point at which disagreements arise
and when political differences according to national, political and religious belongings
re-emerge. The dominant view is best expressed in the words of a British Liberal: [The
EU] should have a policy respecting all, discriminating against none and insisting on
separation between religion and politics.
Conclusion: national religions, secular Europe?
Overall the RelEP findings confirm that religion remains a very national matter. The EU is
not able to alter significantly the way a politician relates to religious beliefs or issues. The
European context may influence how positions concerning religion are expressed to
comply with the multiplicity of denominations and traditions encountered in supranational
arenas; but there is no substantial change: political elites resist any major shift of
competencies between the national and the European level, and they stick to the beha-
viours and attitudes inspired by their political culture of origin.
Religion is not an autonomous variable in European political life: it does not of itself
create cleavages between believers and non-believers, among denominations or among
political forces. Rather, it tends to confirm and reinforce existing divisions amongst
nationalities or political groups. More accurately, religion may be seen as a flux electrify-
ing a set of polarities around which political actors gravitate rather than as a set of closed
boundaries. It does not maintain homogeneous entities, as there may be various attitudes
towards religion within a single nationality or political family. It works rather as an
identity marker, holding together a nation or a party by distinction to other nations or
parties that deal with it differently. More than on distinct principles, differences rely on
various symbolic codages to interpret and display these principles. All European political
actors (at least in government) agree on the separation of politics and religion and respect
for human rights, but some express their view in the language of laïcité and emphasise the
secularist side, while others use the rhetoric of the social role of religion and support an
extensive definition of its mission.
Thus religion exists in European politics mostly under its cultural and social forms,
and these cultural and social forms are deeply national. The asymmetric presence and
legitimacy of religious civil society according to nationalities is an illustration of the
resistance of the social to Europeanisation. Because of the weakness of direct European
competencies to regulate religious matters, there is no proper policy process likely to
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enforce a significant shift of ethos and loyalty from the nation-state to the EU. Rather,
religion operates as an underlying influence on the approach by MEPs to value-loaded
issues, reflecting their primary socialisation or the alignment of their electors at home.
Some MEPs, especially at the extremes, may use religion as a vector of scandalisation,
in order to create controversies likely to reinforce their political profile by contrast to the
competition or to attract media attention. But in doing so, these political entrepreneurs
further reinforce the tendency towards the renationalisation of European politics as
conflicts develop along national lines. Most often, the purpose is to defend national
religion (or secularism) against the attacks of a secularist (or devout) Europe.
At the same time, there are signs of transnationalisation of civil society religious
networks which interact with MEPs to contribute to deliberation and decision-making.
There are also circulations of good practicesor discourses about religion through the
channels of European policy-making. These elements of horizontal Europeanisation
should not be overlooked. Such exchanges can contribute to a convergence of practices
between member-states and to new solidarities around religious or more probably
religiously loaded causes (on ethical issues more than on regulation of religion itself). As
in many other fields, progression beyond national boundaries is easier in functional than
in identity matters. In short, doing things together and/or in the same way in order to deal
with religion may be sometimes possible, but does not necessarily announce a common
sense of European belonging related to religion. For Europe, a community of doing does
not pave a deterministic way towards a community of being, except maybe to a limited
extent in relationships with the rest of the world. Any temptation to follow this path would
probably involve more dangers than opportunities.
Funding
The RelEp project was funded with support from the European Commission through the Jean
Monnet Chair Social and Cultural Dimensions of European Integration, SocEUR [529183-LPP-
2012-BE-AJM-CH]. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission
cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
RelEP has also benefited from the support of research grants from the Université Libre de Bruxelles
and the Belgian Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique.
Notes
1. Presentation of the RelEP findings here is intentionally simple and short in order to give a
general insight against which to assess the comparison between member-states and with
national elites, the core subject of this publication. Other pieces published elsewhere push
further the theoretical implications of these findings, for example on the cultural liberalism of
MEPs and the implication for the EUs rulings on human rights (Foret 2014a); on the systematic
comparison between the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives (Foret
2014b); on religion as an object of European public policy and on religion as a political
influence in the framing of European polity and politics (Foret 2015).
2. The term religion may here be understood in various ways: as a personal inspiration; as a set of
actors; as an issue. Other questions detail its different dimensions. Here, the purpose is to
measure the way MEPs relate to this multidimensional topic, as compared with other multi-
dimensional factors such as nationality or ideology.
3. More details about the research protocol of PartiRep (20072011, n= 1536) may be found here:
http://www.partirep.eu/datafile/comparative-mp-survey. The author would like to thank the
PartiRep team (especially Pascal Delwit, Jean-Benoît Pilet and Giulia Sandri) for making
unpublished data available.
4. The list offered to MEPs in order to identity their most frequent interlocutors is taken from the
database of organisations registered at the EP and confirmed by exploratory interviews.
Religion, State & Society 17
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5. The criterion was simply to include all organisations having an identifiably religious dimension
in their activity, either directly (a lobby emanating from churches and aiming at promoting a
religious message) or indirectly (an NGO with a religious heritage acting for causes such as
development, solidarity or fundamental rights).
6. The importance of the personal religiosity of rulers is a key indicator to compare the level of
cultural liberalism of societies around the world. See the use of the question by Inglehart and
Norris to underline the importance of social values as a necessary bedrock for democracy. They
mention 88% yesin Egypt, 83% in Iran, 71% in the Philippines, and 40% in the USA. See
Inglehart and Norris (2003, 79), Norris and Inglehart (2009).
7. The answers dont know/no answer(37 for RelEP, 24.5% of those who answered the
question) are excluded to make the data commensurable with EVS data. These answers indicate
a significant self-censorship by politicians on such questions, a usual phenomenon in surveys of
this kind.
8. Rates calculated from World Values Survey data available for 13 countries congruent with
nationalities of MEPs represented in the RelEP sample: Bulgaria (2006), Cyprus (2006),
Finland (2005), France (2006), Germany (2006), Great Britain (2006), Italy (2005),
Netherlands (2006), Poland (2005), Romania (2005), Slovenia (2005), Spain (2007), Sweden
(2006) (http://www.wvsevsdb.com/wvs/WVSAnalize.jsp, accessed 3 November 2012).
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... The survey was based on aggregated answers of the 167 MEPs who took the questionnaire during the term 2009-14. Case studies were also developed to discuss the results by country and compare MEPs with national political elites (Foret, 2014). ...
... On questions requiring arbitration between the neutrality of institutions or rules and individual freedom of choice (such as the right of a nurse not to perform an abortion), MEPs are polarized. Overall, there is little potential for conflicts and cleavages on religious issues in themselves, but there is a significant potential for the politicization of religiously loaded ethical or cultural issues (Foret, 2014). Shifting now from the effects of religion at the individual level of MEPs to its impact on the EP as an institution, its inscription in the EU political system and its policy action, the following section discusses the weight of Christian democracy in the genesis and functioning of European representative democracy. ...
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As a representative body elected by direct universal suffrage since 1979, the European Parliament (EP) is the democratic bond of the European Union (EU). In the political culture of Europe since the Enlightenment, a parliament has embodied popular sovereignty , constituting the bedrock of the legitimacy of political orders; it exists to make the voices of citizens heard. The EP benefits from these expectations. Opinion polls show that it is the most well-known and well-liked of all EU institutions, even if Europeans do not necessarily feel themselves to be represented through its functioning. The EP is also the most political arena of the EU and as such offers the best opportunity for the expression of normative views, including religious ones. Proportional representation enables minority forces to gain visibility and resources. Consequently, it is likely to offer a relatively comprehensive reflection of Europe's ideological, cultural and denominational diversity. Nevertheless, the EP must submit to the usual constraints of EU politics. The necessity to seek large coalitions and to make compromises leads to the avoidance of controversial issues, especially religiously loaded ones. Deference to Member States, the delegation to experts and civil society, a focus on means rather than ends, and a predilection for the legal and technocratic repertoires of action are some of the features displayed by the assembly when handling debates in which values are at stake. In addition, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) face the inevitable ambiguity of speaking for Europe while representing national electorates. National cultures, majority denominations, and the history of state-church relations remain formative with respect to religion and the acknowledgment of contributions of faith communities to the public good. Political groups at the EP comply with this diversity. The purpose of this chapter is to offer an overview of the salience, relevance and effects of religion in the European Parliament. Several issues are analysed: the allocation of power (religion and European elections); the profile of political elites (MEPs and religion); the structuring of political forces (religion and party politics, using the
... Broadly speaking, religion has a role in the project for European integration and its implementation (Foret, 2015). The current literature on religion and the EU shows that religion is often the subject of debate in the European Parliament, in the absence of specific policies on religions mediated by other subjects (Foret, 2014). In addition to foreign policy, in which the EU pays specific attention to the protection and support of religious freedom (Foret, 2015), many internal policies intersect with religious matters: this is the case, for example, of migration, anti-discrimination, education and culture, and security policies (Carrera & Parkin, 2010). ...
... A research programme that investigated the role of religion at the EU level (among the MEPs and in EU institutions and decision-making processes) found that individual religiosity and religious networks did not play a significant role in the selection of MEPs, in the electoral campaign for the European elections in many countries, or in MEPs' socialization and ordinary lives once at the EP. However, MEPs believed that religion had a role in the European Parliament's decision-making process and that it was a significant issue when discussing European identity (Foret, 2014). The research stemmed from the valueloaded debates on bioethical and multicultural issues which redirected political attention to religion, and religion attention to politics (see also Ozzano & Giorgi, 2016). ...
Book
What is the impact of populism on the EU? How did the EU institutions and civil society react to the recent rise of populist parties? To answer such relevant questions and understand populism in terms of ideas, political outcomes, and social dynamics, academia needs to engage with institutional actors, civil society organizations, and policy makers. By bringing together academics, members of European institutions and agencies, and leaders of civil society organizations, this edited volume bridges the gap between research and practice. It explores how populism impacted on European institutions and civil society and investigates their reactions and strategies to overcome the challenges posed by populists. This collection is organized into three main sections, i.e., general European governance; European Parliament and Commission; European organized civil society. Overall, the volume unveils how the populist threat was perceived within the EU institutions and NGOs and discusses the strategies they devised to react and how these were implemented in institutional and public communication.
... In short, twenty-eight distinct ways of combining politics with the sacred confront one another within this assembly. Political groups at the EP comply with this diversity to integrate parties with different ideological traditions regarding spiritual affairs (Foret, 2014). ...
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This article explores the implementation of the European Union’s (EU) counter-radicalisation strategy (EUCRS) and its treatment of religion. It focuses on two EU institutional frameworks that entail processes of politicisation and depoliticisation through rationalisation: the European Parliament, as the EU’s political arena par excellence where value-loaded issues are debated, and the Radicalisation Awareness Network, as a technocratic body that gathers experts and circulates best practices. We examine both policy configurations to determine whether, to what extent and how the religious dimension of the EUCRS leads to the development of new patterns to organise or contain conflict; and whether new actors, divisions, loyalties, repertoires of action and policy practices emerge. We demonstrate that religion is institutionalised as an EU policy issue in usual ways that serve to promote transnational regulation while preserving party, cultural, denominational and national differences without altering the structural logic of European politics and their standard approach to religion.
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This contribution explores whether and how the populist challenge has affected the discussions around religion in the European Parliament. More specifically, it documents whether the increasing presence of populist actors in the European Parliament has resulted in an increasing attention toward religious matters, or in changes in the frames related to religions. In addition, in light of the increasing concern of the European Union for the rise of populism, it analyses whether the debates around populism include concerns in relation to the role of religion in the populist discourse.
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The literature on morality politics is well-documented, but has mostly taken place at the national level. Yet, morality politics increasingly appears on the European Parliament’s agenda. Abortion has been tackled through parliamentary reports on sexual and reproductive health and rights; while human embryonic stem cell research has been dealt with through the successive European research framework programmes. Using semi-structured interviews with (former) MEPs, this research examines how the central actors involved in these parliamentary debates perceive and explain their vote on these issues. The analysis particularly focuses on the role of religion and values, and uncovers its effects at several levels: national culture, political affiliation and personal believing. In that regard, respondents emphasise the great degree of freedom that the European parliamentary arena offers to its members to express their personal values and convictions – and not exclusively on morality issues.
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Does religion affect legislators’ behavior on environmental policy in the US? Studies of environmental policy making have not examined this question, although the literature suggests that religion might affect legislative behavior on environmental policy. This study examines the relationship between US House members’ religion and roll-call voting on environmental legislation from 1973 to 2009. It finds significant differences across religious traditions. Legislators’ party and characteristics of constituencies relevant to environmental politics increasingly, but not entirely, mediate these differences.
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Democratic representation and religion. Differences and convergences between the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives It is common to oppose a secular Europe to a religious America. As representations of cultural diversity and popular sovereignty, Parliaments are the best illustrations of mutual arrangements between politics and religion. Little data is available on religion at the European Parliament, in contrast to the rich scholarship on the Congress. Relying on the first survey of its kind on members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the article analyses what they believe and what they do with these beliefs. The purpose is to understand how religion interacts with representation and political socialization of MEPs within and outside the assembly. The American House of Representatives is used as a reference case study. Overall, there are significant differences between European and American legislators, mainly due to their distinct social, cultural, political and institutional environments. However, several common logics may also be seen at work, suggesting that the EU is not as exceptional as is often thought.
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Suite au renforcement de ses pouvoirs législatifs et de ses prérogatives en matière de nomination de la Commission, le Parlement européen se présente de plus en plus comme un véritable parlement. Cette assemblée, la seule institution communautaire issue du suffrage universel direct, souffre pourtant d’un déficit de visibilité et de légitimité, comme en témoigne le recul régulier de la participation électorale depuis 1979. La capacité de ses membres à représenter les citoyens apparaît ainsi comme un enjeu central pour la légitimation de l’Union européenne et la structuration d’un espace politique supranational. Si les recherches sur les votes d’assemblée montrent que le clivage gauche-droite – calqué sur le modèle de la politique nationale – joue un rôle croissant dans l’organisation interne des débats, les pratiques individuelles des parlementaires restent mal connues dans leur diversité et dans leur hétérogénéité. En effet, les députés n’ont pas pour seule tâche de voter sur des directives ou des règlements au cours des séances plénières à Strasbourg : ils participent aux travaux de commissions parlementaires, adressent des questions à la Commission et au Conseil, organisent des auditions publiques, reçoivent des pétitions, contribuent aux débats politiques dans leurs partis, informent leurs électeurs des initiatives communautaires, etc. Cet ensemble d’activités, qui constituent véritablement le travail de représentation, est au cœur du présent ouvrage. Comme le montre l’auteur, les comportements des députés européens, loin de s’uniformiser, obéissent à des logiques contrastées dont le concept sociologique de rôle est le mieux à même de rendre compte. Cinq types de rôle correspondant à des interprétations différentes de la fonction parlementaire européenne – l’animateur, le spécialiste, l’intermédiaire, le contestataire et le dilettante – sont mis au jour à partir d’entretiens avec 78 députés de 11 nationalités. S’inscrivant dans la perspective d’une sociologie interprétative, l’analyse s’attache à retracer les contours de ces rôles et à montrer qu’ils correspondent à des attitudes différenciées à l’égard de l’intégration européenne et à des trajectoires de carrière particulières. La structuration de l’espace politique européen ne reproduit pas simplement des schémas nationaux préétablis : elle a sa logique propre qui dépend largement des modes d’investissement de l’Europe par des acteurs politiques rationnels.
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This book analyzes the place and influence of religion in European politics. François Foret presents the first data ever collected on the religious beliefs of European decision makers and what they do with these beliefs. Discussing popular assumptions such as the return of religion, aggressive European secularism, and religious lobbying, Foret offers objective data and non-normative conceptual frameworks to clarify some major issues in the contemporary political debate.
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Examines one of the world's most powerful international administrations; Draws on data from the largest survey of Commission officials ever conducted by independent researchers; Based on insider testimony.The European Commission is arguably the world's most powerful international administration. It plays a central role in the political system of the European Union. The Commission is a permanent presence in the life of the member states, but its influence is felt far beyond their borders. Viewed historically as the motor of European integration, the Commission is the subject of intense controversy. It is portrayed frequently as technocratic, monolithic, and unaccountable, but also as fragmented and weakly led. According to accepted wisdom, it is populated by career bureaucrats, who want only to expand the competencies of the Union and therefore their own power.This book tests these views. It asks: Who are the people who work for the organization? What are their educational and professional backgrounds? What do officials believe about the role of the Commission in the EU today and whether the Union should have more or less power? What leads them to choose to pursue a career in the Commission, and how do they navigate its complexities? How does the Barroso Commission compare to previous Commissions? How harmonious are relations between cabinets and the services? What has been the impact on the Commission of reform and of the 'big bang' enlargement? Co-authored by an international team of researchers, this book draws on original data from the largest attitudinal survey ever conducted by independent researchers inside the Commission, as well as a structured programme of interviews with senior officials. It provides an authoritative account of the European Commission of the twenty-first century.Readership: Scholars and students of political science, especially those interested in international relations, EU studies, and public administration. (Résumé éditeur)
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European legislators must increasingly deal with issues related to fundamental rights. Religion is a frequent topic obliging them to do so. It is not directly part of the EU’s competences but is a source of values underlying policy choices and a tricky political object. Relying on the findings of a survey about what Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) believe and what they do with these beliefs, the article analyzes potential tensions created by religion in the implementation of human rights by the EU. A first part shows how and to what extent European law meets religion, and how it leaves ample room for flexibility but also for divergent interpretations. A second part states that MEPs agree largely on the principle of separation between politics and religion, but may be divided when it comes to drawing boundaries between the two domains. The conclusion points out the limits of the rule of law to prevent conflicts and suggests that human rights may inspire support as well as cause resistance to Europeanization.
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Europe is a relatively secular part of the world in global terms. Why is this so? And why is the situation in Europe so different from that in the United States? The first chapter of this book - the theme - articulates this contrast. The remaining chapters - the variations - look in turn at the historical, philosophical, institutional and sociological dimensions of these differences. Key ideas are examined in detail, among them: constitutional issues; the Enlightenment; systems of law, education and welfare; questions of class, ethnicity, gender and generation. In each chapter both the similarities and differences between the European and the American cases are carefully scrutinized. The final chapter explores the ways in which these features translate into policy on both sides of the Atlantic. This book is highly topical and relates very directly to current misunderstandings between Europe and America.
Article
It is common to oppose a secular Europe to a religious America. As representatives of cultural diversity and popular sovereignty, Parliaments are the best illustrations of mutual arrangements between politics and religion. Little data is available on religion at the EP, in contrast to the rich scholarship on the Congress. Relying on the first survey of its kind on members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the article analyses what they believe and what they do with these beliefs. The purpose is to understand how religion interacts with representation and political socialization of MEPs within and outside the assembly. The American House of Representatives is used as a reference case study. Overall, there are significant differences between European and American legislators, mainly due to their distinct social, cultural, political and institutional environments. However, several common logics may also be seen at work, suggesting that the EU is not as exceptional as is often thought.