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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 15:33 GMT
EU values - united in diversity?
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online

The codename Enduring Freedom could only have been dreamt up by the Pentagon - but if the EU went in for such things it would be an apt tag for its expansion into Central Europe.

The aim is to consolidate peace and democracy in the region, in the wake of the Cold War.

The method - to re-make the former eastern bloc states in Western Europe's image, grafting on to them a set of EU values and a new system of government.

"It's regime change," says Fraser Cameron, a senior European Commission official seconded to a Brussels think-tank, the European Policy Centre.

Your views on European values, Christianity and Islam

"The US and Europe are both engaged in regime change. The Americans drop bombs from 30,000 feet. We have a more subtle way.

"We change the social, economic and legal systems, which involves root and branch upheaval of all parts of society."

Unlike al-Qaeda and the Taleban - the objects of the US-led operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan - the eight Central European states joining the union next year (along with Cyprus and Malta) have mostly lapped up the EU's message.

They largely see it as a return to their own Central European heritage.

But the attempt to spell out what EU values are has highlighted differences between some existing member states - while the task of spreading these values to the new members has not been a 100% success.

Bill of Rights

"The union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," says Article Two of the draft of the EU's first constitution.

"These values are common to the member states in a society of pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination."

The Union's aim is to promote peace, its values, and the well-being of its peoples
Constitution Article 3 (I)
So far, so uncontroversial. But the constitution enters riskier territory by incorporating in full the Charter of Fundamental Rights - which enshrines the right to strike, and to collective bargaining, as well as guaranteeing workers' consultation rights and protection against unfair dismissal, social security benefits and social housing.

It is rights of this kind that are meant to distinguish Europe from the US, but the subject causes some unease in the UK.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher branded an earlier EU charter - on Fundamental Social Rights - as "socialist" and refused to sign it.

The current UK government, meanwhile, has made great efforts to ensure that the new charter cannot be invoked in court to bind the hand of nation states, except when they are implementing union law.

Some other European governments have sympathised, but it is unlikely that any of them would feel the need to reassure citizens that the charter will have no more legal force than the Beano - as UK Europe Minister Keith Vaz did in 2000.

In many states the charter is held up proudly as a European bill of rights, a definition of EU citizenship, and a guarantee of social protection without parallel in the world.

Culture clash

If in this respect the UK finds itself outside the EU's mainstream, some of the new members may, in other ways, be even further out of kilter.

"It is a different culture with different traditions - and not just because of the last 40 years of communism," says Fraser Cameron.

In Polish eyes, the EU is progressing too much on abortion, homosexuality, and on all sorts of minorities
Polish MP Janusz Lewandowski
"There is a lack of familiarity with democratic practices, a limited appreciation of human rights and minority rights, and there is no vocal civil society. Courts pay lip service, but don't really follow through very much."

He predicts post-enlargement friction between West and East - lecturing from old member states, and defensiveness from the new ones - especially if there is a repeat of the sharp words exchanged during the Old-Europe / New-Europe row over Iraq.

Any discrimination based on any ground, such as sex, race, colour, ethnic of social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation, shall be prohibited
Article II-21 (1)
A member of the Polish parliament, Janusz Lewandowski, explains the Polish perspective: many Poles, he says, see a danger of the EU watering down their conservative Christian heritage with liberal values, and accelerating the secularisation of Polish society.

"In Polish eyes, the EU is progressing too much on abortion, homosexuality, and on all sorts of minorities which are better and better protected in the EU," he says.

Pope John Paul II, has suggested that his native Poland might in fact transfer values in the opposition direction - enriching the EU with its own Christian traditions.

Christian club?

The Polish Government agrees and last year spearheaded a campaign for a reference to "Judaeo-Christian roots" in the preamble to the EU constitution.

This proposal points up another faultline in the European system of values.

When you start to mention a particular belief or tradition, you exclude traditions you don't want to exclude
Stefan de Rynck
European Commission representative on IGC
Poland had some support from Spain, Italy and Malta - but for France and Belgium the rigid separation of church and state is an article of faith. They are adamantly opposed.

Germany, the UK and the European Commission also believe that the existing reference to "the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe" is probably the best compromise.

"When you start to mention a particular belief or tradition, you exclude traditions you don't want to exclude," says the Commission's representative to the intergovernmental conference, Stefan de Rynck.

"The question is whether you want to single out Christianity in your history. We all live in multi-cultural societies, and in a global context, in 2003, you don't want to appear as a Christian club."

Of the countries waiting in the wings for EU membership after the next enlargement, three are Muslim: not only Turkey, but also Albania and Bosnia.

If their applications proceed they too will be exposed to the EU's liberalising winds.

But it is possible, perhaps, that one or more of them might one day join Poland in the ranks of the EU's social conservatives.

Poland sheds its EU illusions
02 Dec 02  |  Europe
Pope presses EU on constitution
29 Jun 03  |  Europe
Q&A: EU constitution conference
06 Oct 03  |  Europe

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