Is there room for religion?

The newborn Intergroup on Freedom of Religion presented a survey on MEPs' relationship with the "religious sphere", with some surprises

"At the European Parliament (EP), religion is neither a matrix framing individual or collective preferences nor a sufficient basis to mobilize. It remains a significant symbolic resource of distinction to build a political and media profile and to demarcate oneself from the competition": in a nutshell, this is the outcome of a research coordinated by François Foret, chair of political research at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels, presented during a meeting of the EP’s newly created Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance. The purpose of the research project was "to investigate the beliefs of the members of the European Parliament", the consequences of these beliefs on their action, as well as the "impact of religion on "the socialization capacities of the European Parliament", the way of facing issues with "religious bearing" and for which "strategies" religion is eventually used. It should be noted that the survey refers to the past legislature (2009-2014) and that it is based on the answers given by 167 out of 736 MEPs (namely, 22.7%), who accepted to answer the 23 questions of the survey distributed in 9 languages. A "social factor"? 63.2% of respondents said that religion plays a significant role in terms of its influence of on Parliament works, the claim was supported mostly by MEPs who declare themselves non-religious or atheists. "This suggests that religion is more visible to those who are distant or hostile to it, while for believers its role in Parliament is insufficient in terms of the role is plays in their individual lives", Foret said, pointing out that Protestants (especially among German and British MEPs) "perceive the influence of Catholicism in European decision-making process while the Orthodox, (the Romanians in particular) think that religion is not considered enough and they regret that it is not taken into due account." However, the majority of MEPs (66.7%) religion is taken into account rarely (47.1%) or never (19.6%) taken into account, while only a third of MEPs does it often or always. A possible explanation for this paradox according to Foret is that religion is addressed as "a social factor", regardless of preference or personal involvement. Christian culture and tradition. Another paradox is found the reference to the theme of European culture and the ties with Christian tradition. MEPs, are almost equally divided (approx. 50%), on whether there should be reference to the Christian heritage of Europe in the Treaty of Lisbon, although 0.3% more said they "agree" with the lack of reference to Christian roots in the treaties. Moreover, 77% of MEPs recognized that the religious and cultural factors have influenced the way of dealing with question of Turkey’s EU adhesion. Religion emerges most in connection with a set of specific areas such as fundamental rights, social policies, culture and education; it has scarce relevance in matters regarding international relations. In all areas, Foret pointed out, religion "can act as a way to raise interest or prompt polarised positions on the part of policy-makers and by the media", but without impacting political decisions. Religious and parliament "lobbies." 21% of MEPs said they are "regularly in touch with religious representatives, once a month or more", while 15.8% said they "have no contacts. Those who said they have regular contacts are those who believe that religion can influence the works of the European Parliament and those who declare themselves believers. But "there is no proof that coming into contact with religious lobbies will lead a given MEP to change his mind." Those who are least worried about (and more used to) meeting specific interest groups, which includes religious "lobbies" are British MEPs, while French MEPs are those who most oppose the interference of interest groups, notably those religiously motivated. In the "heterogeneous, plural and atomized" realm of NGOs with a religious dimension, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Community (COMECE) is "the most frequently mentioned organization dedicated entirely to religious lobbying" (22.2%), followed by the Conference of European Churches (8.1%). This overview is marked by the absence of the Protestants, whose "small fleet" "reflect the "de-institutionalised nature of this religious denomination." Jewish organizations, marked by low public profile, are a visible presence with "efficient strategies." Orthodox and Muslims "are almost invisible, compared to their demographic role within European populations." Organizations "with specific interests", "committed in the name of spiritual values" whereby Caritas plays a primary role, represent an actively visible presence. I’m a non-practising believer… The last part of the survey regards MEPs’ religious beliefs, behaviour and practice: 72% or respondents declared affiliation to a religious denomination, but only 62% described themselves as "a religious person", while 55% believe in God or in some form of spirit or "vital force." Conclusion: in line with European statistics, "MEP"s are a group in which emerges religious affiliation without belief and in higher numbers, affiliation without religious practice."

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