A Christian or a Laic Europe? Moving beyond a False Dichotomy
Ungureanu, Camil, Romanian Journal of Political Science
In order to assess the debate concerning the constitutional recognition of Christianity in Europe, we need to pose the more general question of the role (if any) of the symbolic function of the modern democratic constitution in relation to religion. In the present paper, we differentiate between three stylized understandings of constitution-making, namely communitarian, liberal and discursive. Our argument is that the discursive "model" of the symbolic function of the constitution combines the merits and avoids the demerits of communitarianism and liberalism.
Keywords: European constitutionalism, democracy, religion, Habermas, Rawls, communitarianism.
The failure of the "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe" has given a fresh impetus to the advocates of introducing a reference to Christianity in the Preamble of the future European Constitution: Angela Merkel's renewed plea is a prime example of this positioning. (1) According to it, a stronger anchorage into the Christian dimension of the European identity would not merely reflect the realities of the European historical and legal-constitutional traditions, but it would also offset the lack of solidarity and concrete motivation for furthering the European political project. The fiasco of the Constitutional Treaty is yet another confirmation that a European polity founded on private economic interest or on abstractions such as procedural democracy and constitutional patriotism is unworkable. Thus, the spiritless European political body would need a transfusion of religious blood: the constitutional recognition of Christianity is, as the argument goes, a necessary step in this direction.
In order to clarify the issue of the desirability of introducing a reference to Christianity in the European Constitution, we need to tackle the general question of the function and purpose of a constitution in modern democracies. A modern democratic constitution fulfils normally a plurality of functions out of which three are almost always present. The first is the organization of the state powers and the repartition of institutional competencies. The second is defining and specifying the relations between individuals and the public authority. This includes catalogues of individual rights but also of duties and responsibilities--for instance the contribution to military defence and other public expenses. Third, a constitution can have a symbolic function in that it is also "a kind of deposit that reflects and fosters values, ideals and symbols shared by a particular society." (2) While the first two functions are in principle accepted by the main currents of contemporary political-legal thought, the third symbolic one is subject of deep controversy. The debate concerning the recognition of Christianity by the European Constitution is about how to conceive its symbolic function: in the first place, is it desirable? If so, should it include references to secular values or also to Christian religious values? Then, what could be the legal, political and symbolic consequences of making a reference to Christianity in the European Constitution?
In this paper, we advance the distinction between three stylised conceptions of constitution-making (communitarian, liberal and discursive) and analyze what they entail for the question of the constitutional recognition of Christianity in Europe. First, communitarianism regards the communal identity and the values of community as foundational for the constitutional project: a constitution is supposed to reflect a pre-political identity and a set of communal goods. (3) This stance has been recently adapted and applied to Europe by J. Weiler in his Un'Europa Cristiana. According to this view, the European Constitution should emerge out of the European identity and, therefore, mirror the Christian dimension of this identity. Weiler interprets the constitutional recognition of Christianity as having at least three positive consequences:--it can enhance a fruitful interaction between the Christian (and, more generally, religious) discourse and democratic discourse;--it entails that the Christian discourse can have a direct impact on the legal decision-making;--it would have not only integrative effects for the European Christians, but also for other religious persons in virtue of the implicit recognition of the general salience of religion for people's life (Section I). …