Academic journal article Nottingham Law Journal

Europe - in Search of a Soul? Article 17 Tfeu and Its Functioning

Academic journal article Nottingham Law Journal

Europe - in Search of a Soul? Article 17 Tfeu and Its Functioning

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

"If in the next ten years we haven't managed to give a soul to Europe,
to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up". (1)

It has been almost 25 years since Jacques Delors, the President of the European Commission outlined the importance of giving a soul to Europe. This has been attempted, at the institutional level, through the dialogue between the European Union and churches, religious associations and communities, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations. Although this dialogue has evolved from informal contacts to a structured scheme of meetings, with a legal basis in Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it is unclear if it has, in fact, become a real instrument of democratic participation or has rather remained a formal tool with little measurable impact or policy outcome.

This contribution seeks to analyse the structure, functioning and development of the dialogue between the European Union and churches, religious associations and communities, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations (Article 17 dialogue). In order to do so, it will outline the history of the dialogue, its current structure (dialogue partners, criteria for eligibility as an interlocutor, the requirement of openness, transparency and regularity), and the manner in which it has been impacted by the 2013 decision of the European Ombudsman on the alleged failure by the European Commission to correctly implement Article 17.

Four main observations will be made. First, that the eligibility criteria to become a dialogue partner under Article 17 are unclear and contradictory: in practice, the European Commission applies different standards for secular and Humanist non-governmental organisations, on the one hand, and religious non-governmental organisations, on the other, overall favouring the former. Second, that contrary to the requirement of openness and transparency, EU institutions make publicly available very little information regarding priority topics for discussion and the substance of meetings that take place under Article 17. Third, that the regularity of the dialogue appears not to go beyond and above formal meetings, as there is no concrete outcome and follow up to these meetings. Fourth, that the recent developments indicate a decrease in the importance of and an obscuring of what the Article 17 dialogue entails.

Overall, despite the apparent strengthening of the legal status and structural elements, the dialogue under Article 17 is experiencing a weakening of structure, a dilution of substance, and an inconsistency of criteria for participation. This is why this contribution will finally set out a number of recommendations to strengthen the implementation of Article 17 in order to increase its impact, efficiency and the level of participatory democracy.

ARTICLE 17 TFEU--THE HISTORY

The section seeks to offer an overview of the history of Article 17, and how the dialogue between the European Union and churches, religious associations and communities, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations was initiated.

Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), placed under the section entitled "The Democratic Life of the Union", has no direct or indirect predecessor in the former European Community Treaties, but rather "has evolved from earlier informal contacts to a more structured system of regular meetings, underpinned by a solid legal basis". (2)

A number of initiatives inspired the dialogue. Some commentators refer to 1982, "when the European Commission took its first steps to formalise exchanges dating back in 1960s by appointing a special adviser with the task of liaising with the churches". (3) In 1992 this initiative took a more concrete form in the project entitled "A soul for Europe", advanced by the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors. …

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