Some conservative EU officials want the EU's first constitution to mention God by name and define European values as including "those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty."
The proposal faced strong opposition Wednesday--one EU official called it "stupid"--as a 13-member panel struggled to draft the charter's first six articles, dealing with Europe's fundamental values and powers. Leading the panel is former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who was expected to present a draft of the articles Thursday.
EU officials said Wednesday the draft is not likely to mention God directly. They also said the text could be changed.
The question of God and religion is highly contentious in Europe, where nations have very different histories of the relationship between government and religion. The French Revolution turned on separating the church from state matters. In Spain, a reference to Catholicism evokes memories of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who stamped every Spanish coin with his profile and backed his grip on power "by the Grace of God." By contrast, in Poland--set to join the European Union in 2004--the Roman Catholic Church played a key role in guiding the country out of communism.
The fractious debate started last month, when the European Convention--an assembly of 105 representatives of the 15 EU governments, legislatures and institutions--took up the question of how the charter should deal with powers and religion. The pro-God proposal, made by 20 conservatives, does not mention a specific religion but says God is part of Europe's "spiritual heritage."
Others are just as devout in saying that heritage is secular. "Our identity is the fight for democracy, for human rights, for the separation between church and state," said Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. Jan Zahradil, a Czech parliamentarian whose country will join the EU next year, said mentioning God in any EU charter was "a stupid idea (that) will only provoke disagreements. There should be no direct link to religion at all."
But mentioning God in the EU treaty is important to many religious denominations, including Jewish, Muslim and Protestant organizations. Above all, it is important to the Vatican: The Roman Catholic Church has submitted personal pleas from the pope that Christianity should be stressed in any EU charter.
"Christianity holds a privileged position" in Europe, the pontiff told the European Convention last month. Christian beliefs, he said, have "permeated Europe's history and institutions (and) all the Christian Churches have urged those drawing up the future Constitutional Treaty of the European Union to include a reference to Churches and religious institutions."
Former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, a member of the European Convention's executive panel, points out that many national constitutions in Europe already refer to God and religion. "There is an embarrassment to admitting to religious beliefs in our modern culture," he said recently. "For many people, their values come directly from their belief in God."