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Religion and EU Institutions

  • Pasquale Annicchino (a1) (a2)

The implementation of Article 17(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) has always been one of the central topics of discussion for legal scholars analysing the relationships between religious groups and European institutions. According to Article 17, the European Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches, religious associations or communities, philosophical organisations and non-confessional organisations. In the case in hand, the complainant, the European Humanist Federation (EHF) decided to lodge a complaint before the European Ombudsman when the European Commission rejected the proposal for a dialogue seminar.

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1 Article 17 TFEU states: ‘1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under National law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States. 2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organizations. 3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organizations.’

2 According to their own definition, the European Humanist Federation is the ‘largest umbrella organization of humanist associations in Europe, promoting a secular Europe, defending equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief, fighting religious conservatism in Europe and at the EU level’ (see <> accessed 29 April 2013).

3 Council Directive 2000/78/EC, 27 November 2000, establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

4 Ibid, para 2.

5 Decision of the European Ombudsman in his inquiry into complaint 2097/2011/RA against the European Commission, para 13.

6 Ibid, para 23.

7 Ibid, para 26.

8 Ibid, para 27.

9 Ibid, para 31, quoting from the Ombudsman's draft recommendation in the case 2558/2009/(TN)DK.

10 It is not specified in the text of the decision why the Ombudsman preferred this association with the French approach and understanding of the relationship between religion and public power.

11 Decision of the European Ombudsman re. 2097/2011/RA, para 38.

12 Ibid, para 41.

13 Ibid, para 42.

14 Ibid, para 43.

15 The exact topic of the dialogue would have been: ‘problems that arise in defining the application of religious exemptions from the EU's directive 2000/78/EC on employment’ (ibid, para 46).

16 Ibid, para 48. The Ombudsman does not clarify this expression in the text of the Decision.

17 Ibid, para 48.

18 At para 58, the Ombudsman writes: ‘The Ombudsman recalls that the Commission enjoys a broad margin of discretion in terms of defining its policy priorities and, in the context of this case, in terms of determining the topics it chooses to discuss as part of the Article 17 TFEU dialogue. Whether the complainant's proposal is a main priority and of wider common interest is for the Commission to determine.’

19 Ibid, para 56.

20 Ibid, para 63.

21 On the role of European courts in this process see M Ventura, ‘Law and religion issues in Strasbourg and Luxembourg: the virtues of European Courts’, ReligioWest Project Kick-off meeting paper, <>, accessed 14 June 2013. More generally see also Ventura, M, La laicità dell'Unione Europea: diritti, mercato, religione (Turin, 2001).

22 See Van Duyn v Home Office, C-41/74, European Court of Justice, 4 December 1974.

23 The reference here is to the famous metaphor coined by Richard Rorty: see Rorty, R, ‘Religion as a conversation stopper’, in Philosophy and Social Hope (New York, 1999), pp 168174.

24 As Ronan McCrea puts it: ‘The Union's Treaty commitment to engagement with civil society recognizes that its law-and policy-making must be informed by diverse perspectives and views of the good life from across Europe. Thus, civil society plays a role in forming a European public morality that informs the Union's law-making.’ McCrea, R, Religion and the Public Order of the European Union (Oxford, 2010), p 73. For a critique of the logic of Article 17 see Houston, K, ‘The logic of structured dialogue between religious associations and the institutions of the European Union’, (2009) 37 Religion, State and Society 207222.

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Ecclesiastical Law Journal
  • ISSN: 0956-618X
  • EISSN: 1751-8539
  • URL: /core/journals/ecclesiastical-law-journal
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