Healthy Realism, not Kind Concession
A debate on the future European Charter was held in the Palazzo del Seminario (Italian Parliament building) in Rome, including the provocation of the authoritative American constitutionalist and interventions by Giuliano Amato and Giorgio Vittadini. From Milan, comments by Claudio Morpurgo and Roberto Formigoni

by Riccardo Piol

Is there room for Christianity in the European Constitution? Some people, with France in the lead, say no. Others, led by Italy, have proposed the introduction of an explicit reference in the Preamble. The question has been under debate for a long time. For Joseph Weiler, a constitutionalist of international fame who has studied the process of European integration for over twenty years, “the reference to God and to Christianity is not only constitutionally acceptable, but indispensable.” He affirms as much in his latest book bearing the eloquent title Un’Europa cristiana [A Christian Europe], a provocative essay published by Rizzoli, which reopens the debate, rescuing it from the oblivion of the ifs and buts, where some hoped it would fizzle out. Christianity is the patrimony of Europe past and present, and to insert this fact into the Constitution is not a kind concession, but healthy realism. Weiler, a practicing Jew, writes it clearly, and on November 19th he repeated it to the many people who attended the preview presentation of his book. The initiative was organized jointly by the International Center of CL and the publisher Rizzoli in the hall of the Refectory in the Palazzo del Seminario, the seat of the Italian parliamentary commissions. Renato Farina, Deputy Editor of the Italian daily Libero, moderated interventions by Giuliano Amato, former Vice President of the European Convention, Giorgio Vittadini, President of the Compagnia delle Opere (Company of Works) Foundation for Subsidiarity, and Weiler himself.

Contractual balances

“ We managed ninety-nine instead of a hundred.” Thus Amato summarized the Constitution produced by the Convention that “compared with previous documents by which Europe was regulated, as regards the religions and the requests made to Europe by the religions, represents a change of great importance.” Compared with the 1997 inter-government conference in Amsterdam, there is now Article 51, which recognizes the various accords between individual member States and religious organizations. Of course, it sets them alongside philosophical and non-confessional organizations with a phrase that Amato did not hesitate to call “sibylline,” since it “indirectly identifies freemasonry.” But there is a clear formula that was not there before, just as there was no recognition of the right to religious association. Formerly, the Charter of Fundamental Rights approved three years ago spoke only of the individual profession of faith; today, this is no longer the case. Actually, many objectives have been reached. So why didn’t you manage “a hundred?” “Because the attempt to introduce a reference to the Christian roots in the Preamble would probably have meant discussing everything again.” France, amongst all the States “had reached the limit of its professed secularism” and we opted for a choice dictated by contractual balances. But does Europe have Christian roots or not? “The answer can only be yes,” Amato said. “It’s not a choice I make, but a fact I recognize.” The problem is that “in the Convention phase we only got as far putting in things that were not there before and are important.” In fact, they managed ninety-nine. Amato’s doubtful hope is that the present inter-government conference will manage a hundred.

Fear of things getting worse

And what if we don’t manage a “hundred?” “Weiler’s book confirms the fear that this shortcoming is the warning sign that the chances of a civil, social and economic life for Europe are getting worse.” Granted that it was not compulsory to include preambles and ideal principles in the Constitution, Vittadini sees in the missing reference to religion and Christianity the sign of a precise orientation. “To defend Christianity is also to defend a part, an organization, but is it not the defense of something else, too?” Weiler, an orthodox Jew, is certain of it. And Vittadini sees precisely this theme behind the debate. The problem goes beyond the criticism of the Constitution. “It’s a question mark about today’s Europe,” which people feel to be distant, bureaucratic, centralistic. The draft Constitution does nothing but aggravate this feeling and the fact of having produced a text that deals with everything but does not say everything, is worrying. “I am afraid,” Vittadini says, “that those who wanted the reference to ‘philosophical organizations’ are the same people who want to use this Constitution for increasing the incapacity of an ideal rate that becomes incapacity to develop, a limitation to economic progress, and incapacity to have a policy in support of the resource offered by the single currency.

Noble experience

Weiler, who defines the process of European integration as “a noble experience in world history,” is critical because he is an enthusiast of the theme both as a constitutionalist and as a “religious man.” As a constitutionalist he doesn’t accept that in the name of pluralism a principle be affirmed that is not pluralistic. If it is true that France has a secularist constitution it is equally true that Germany, Ireland and many other European countries mention God in their founding texts. In the example of Poland can be found a solution to all the disputes: “You make reference to all traditions.” Then, as a religious man, he is convinced that “in the most crucial moments of history, man must show his humility before God, to remind himself not only when things goes badly, but also when things go well.” And Christian tradition? For Weiler it is not at all strange that a practicing and orthodox Jew should defend it. Moreover, he doesn’t forgo a reprimand to Christians, an “absent voice” in the debate. His book offers them a chance to rediscover the wealth of the present Pope’s teaching; from him “we learn things in a clearer way than from any other source.” In Europe today, it is only the Church who affirms without imposition “that there is no true practice of tolerance without respect for oneself and one’s own identity.” In the face of those who see in the explicit mention of Christianity the risk of exclusion toward Islam and Judaism, Weiler cites a very personal example: his own children. “We explain to them: as regards faith they are Jews, and culturally they are Europeans and they must recognize that in this Europe Christianity has played a fundamental role, both in political culture and in other cultural aspects. Will they feel small and excluded? No! They will accept the reality as it is.”