The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Europe’s draft constitution has appeared, and god does not figure in it at all. Neither does Christianity. Amidst the general apprehension and criticism, especially the British Europhobic hysteria, that have been promptly unleashed by this publication, it is easy to forget that a draft constitution is a relatively innocuous document, putting down principles which are, in any case, too much like Olympian abstractions to herald any real political change. Yet the quietly firm secularism of this initial statement of values by which the European Union will be governed cannot but sound profoundly reassuring in a world ravaged by divinely inspired passions. A 105-member committee, chaired by the former French president and devout Catholic, Mr Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, took more than a year to draw up this 148-page draft and preamble. It could take up to another year for this draft to be ratified, possibly after a great deal of debate and numerous amendments. The issue of the EU’s official godliness is certainly less important than, say, the questions regarding the appointment of a president, foreign minister, defence force or tax harmonization. But Mr Giscard’s secularism has not been entirely smooth-sailing. The pope is predictably furious, so are Catholic Poland and Italy; the “European identity” must not discount its “Judaeo-Christian heritage”, the Italian deputy prime minister has declared. But the doubting northerners from the Low Countries and agnostic Britain have solidly pushed for secularism — Europe’s Jews, Muslims, other religious minorities and atheists cannot be constitutionally marginalized.

Mr Giscard’s draft constitution traces the intellectual origins of its democratic and humanistic principles to two sources — the classical Greece and Rome, and the Enlightenment. It is no coincidence that the preamble is close in spirit to the Code Napoleon, which enshrines the “natural rights of each man”. Reunited Europe would like to foster a liberal society, at whose centre is the “human person” and his “inviolable and inalienable rights”, and whose basic props would be democracy and a respect for law. In this inventory of ideals, religion is wedged between culture and humanism as part of the European “inheritance”. Constitutions are supposed to define the powers of the various branches of government and the citizens’ rights vis-à-vis the government, and to provide an indication of purpose, a rallying cry, for the citizens. By choosing to remain a secular document, this constitution ensures that Europeans do not have to invoke the name and word of god to sound, if they must, their rallying cry.

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