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European Humanists Meet EU President
Submitted by admin on 13 March, 2006 - 14:39
In November 2005, a delegation of eight humanists from the European Humanist Federation (EHF) met José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. Steinar Nilsen, who headed the delegation as president of EHF writes about this important meeting and its far-reaching implications for organised Humanism in Europe.
The leader of a union of 25 European countries has finally invited Humanists to a meeting, and thus religions are no longer the only institutions recognised as having an important influence on the citizens of the union. This is quite a breakthrough for international Humanism. For more than six years the EHF office in Brussels with secretary general Georges Lienard had worked to arrange such a meeting. Former EC president Romano Prodi received cardinals and bishops regularly, but no invitation for the Humanists was to be seen. When Barroso moved into office, things changed.
European Union and Democracy
President Barroso started the meeting by informing the EHF delegation about the position of the European Union. No country can be admitted to the union unless its citizens have free choice of life stance. However, the union cannot do anything about privileges granted to specific religions, such as concordats, Christian object clauses in laws and suchlike. Such matters can only be dealt with at a national level.
The existence of the European Union has meant a great deal for democracy, said Barroso. Among others, his own country, Portugal, was a dictatorship not many years ago. Today all the EU countries are democracies, and war between member countries is unthinkable.
When Barroso came into office, the number of women in the top positions in the EU was very low. He has instigated a process for changing this. As a result, there are now seven women in high level positions compared to two in the former administration. And there will be several more to come.
EHF and EU
EHF president Steinar Nilsen thanked Barroso for the information. He said that the main reason for asking for the meeting was to inform the EC president about the existence of Humanists and what they do.
Nilsen went on to say: "Polls show that between one third and one half of the population of Europe in reality has no religious life stance or world view, although many of them formally belong to a religion. EHF has as members national humanist and free-thought organisations all over Europe. As far as we can see, we are the only organisation on a European level that speaks for the people who do not feel at home in churches, mosques and similar buildings. And we do speak for their interests, whether they are members or not.
"Our members work in many fields in their countries, notably in the field of social work. A very important part of our work is to provide ceremonies for these non-religious people. We arrange naming ceremonies for babies - the new citizens of Europe! We also do weddings and funerals. Although the churches are not very happy about it, we also have humanist confirmations in the countries where confirmation is a tradition. In my own country Norway about eleven thousand youngsters will take the humanist confirmation courses in 2006 and participate in the celebration at the end of the course. This is 20% of the young people in that age group.
"Humanists believe in no afterlife. This makes our life on Earth all the more important for us, and we strive to improve human conditions to the best of our abilities. We think that all life stances, religious and non-religious, should have an equal status in every nation. This is certainly not the case all over Europe. In many countries the dominant religion has privileges compared to other religions - and to Humanism. This is not comparable with the principles of democracy."
Jean Michel Ducomte, EHF vice president and president of the Ligue Franà§aise de l'Enseignement informed the EC president about the role of education, and how important this is for the civic formation of young citizens. He presented some main principles in this respect: he stressed the importance of public services for education and teaching, and stressed that this could not be submitted to market forces. He added that life-long learning was very important.
Claude Wachtelaer, former EHF general secretary, was president of "A Soul for Europe" for 10 years. He presented to president Barroso the main results obtained with this initiative, started by former president Jacques Delors. The main topic for "A Soul for Europe" was a dialogue between religions and humanists. This had worked well and it was regrettable that that this initiative was discontinued.
Georges Liénard, general secretary of EHF, pointed out the necessity for the European Institutions to be impartial as to citizens' convictions. EHF is working to eliminate discrimination against non-confessionals and is asking the EU to give an equal consideration to this large group of citizens. It is the clear opinion of EHF that public institutions need to be impartial as regards convictions and beliefs, whether they are religious or non-confessional (such as Humanists).
He recounted that EHF works for non discrimination, and also for freedom of scientific research, especially on questions related to bio-ethics or with a high ethical profile. A judicious balance between opposing positions or tendencies is required when such questions are on the agenda in the ethical commissions.
Friendly and Promising
The meeting was conducted in a friendly atmosphere, and resulted in a good dialogue and a valuable exchange of opinions. President Barroso seemed to value the information he received, and provided useful insights for the participants.
EHF president Steinar Nilsen concluded the meeting by saying that what the European Union does has a very large impact on Europe. EHF offers what assistance it can, especially on matters what concerning the secular population of our continent.
President Barroso thanked the Humanists for coming, and referred EHF to several people and offices in the EU that work with matters that concern Humanists.
Documents submitted by EHF to European Institutions during the last five years were presented in a file at the end of the meeting.
Although EHF has worked with the EU from the start of the organisation in 1992, this meeting proved a great inspiration for further work. With recognition now from the top level, the possibilities of promoting humanist causes are better than ever.