God's Place in the EU Constitution
Months after the issue had been swept aside, the question of whether God will have a place in the document that will chart the course of an expanded Europe is set to flare-up once again this weekend.
Italy, Ireland, Spain and new EU member Poland are likely to lead a push to get a mention of Europe's Christian roots into the constitution, which was completed in June and is being discussed by EU leaders this weekend. The EU leaders, including the heads of 10 new member countries set to join in 2004, will have to agree on the wording of the current constitution before ratifying it some time next year.
The current constitution - a rough draft to some countries, a completed document to others - makes no mention of God in the preamble. The omission bothered the conservative members of the convention that drafted the constitution over the past year.
Along with governments like Poland and Spain, they began making calls for changes at the beginning of the year. But opponents, among them the French president of the convention Valérie Giscard d'Estaing, won out in the end.
More backing for mention of God
Now, the countries that pushed for a mention of God are likely to get the backing of additional governments as they renew their request at the Intergovernmental Conference this weekend in Rome. Malta, set to be the smallest EU country when it joins in May 2004, threw its support behind the pro-God camp. Austria, Portugal and the Netherlands are rumoured to be joining the Pope in demanding a mention of God.
At stake is the importance of religion in a document that will chart the course of an expanded European Union that might one day include Muslim Turkey. Opponents, chief among them the governments of France and Finland, say any mention of God would alienate the millions of Europeans who believe in other religions or are atheists.
"I don't want to provoke a religious war," Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told a German newspaper this week. "One can believe in God without it necessary to include Him in the constitution." Proponents say Europe's Christian roots are undeniable and dismiss any constitution that doesn't refer to them as unrepresentative.
Germany has so far tread a careful line on the dispute. While opposition politicians in the Christian Democratic Union call for a mention, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has been relatively quiet, saying the debate is a positive one.
© 2003 Deutsche Welle