While religious freedom is an obvious concern in parts of the world like the Middle East, it also faces challenges in the West, including in the European Union. This ongoing series of posts will explore the changing contours of religious freedom in Europe and will also discuss how European leaders are (or aren't) using religious freedom policy as a foreign policy tool.
By: Pasquale Annicchino
Federica Mogherini, the former Italian minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, is now the new EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Her appointment may be of particular interest to those who closely monitor the development of initiatives on religious freedom within the context of international affairs.
There are two main reasons to follow, at least at the beginning of her mandate, what Federica Mogherini will do. First of all, coming from Italy, she brings with her the experience of a typical case study of what you don’t need to do when you want to address freedom of religion or belief in the international arena. The Italian experience before Mogherini’s term as minister has been characterized by the dysfunctionality typical of Italian politics: high levels of partisanship, short-termism, and a failure to deliver. This is not something to attribute to Mogherini, but it is something that started before her term as minister. Mogherini did not list freedom of religion or belief among her policy priorities notwithstanding the Italian role in the liberation of Meriam Ibrahim (Washington insiders jokingly tell me that it actually was an American-Holy See operation). Nevertheless, Mogherini promised to create a “global database” in order to “compare the various legislative frameworks and arrive at a model set of regulations to guarantee full religious freedom” for the term of the Italian presidency of the European Council. So far, no news.
During her confirmation hearing at the European Parliament, she stressed how freedom of religion or belief will be one of the three priorities for her action within the EU External Action Service.
As I have tried to explain, during the last few years we have seen important developments in this field from the EU. Now, what will Mogherini do? It is far from clear, but an important first step would be to begin by consulting civil society and getting religious groups and EU officials to map what has been done and achieved. It will also be important to initiate a conversation with US institutions. By reading the US Commission on International Religious Freedom 2014 report one realizes that some important points of divergence exist between the United States and Europe. Members of the European Parliament working group on freedom of religion or belief have addressed a detailed letter to Federica Mogherini on November 4 detailing their priorities. In sum, in Brussels action is expected.
Freedom of religion or belief within the European Union is not understood as the “First Freedom” but as one human right among others. Given the current historical and political circumstances, it deserves more attention from EU policymakers, not only in the narrative but also in concrete policy action.
Pasquale Annicchino is a research fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
This piece was originally authored on November 17, 2014 for the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.