ET Conference ‘Religion and the European Project: Theological Perspectives edition:6 location:Leuven date:13-16 September 2007
Since the age of enlightenment, state constructions pay tribute to the values the (new) political regime wants to highlight. Next to the solemn preamble that positions the state in general, mostly historical terms, a particular section of the Constitution is devoted to a more detailed enumeration of rights and freedoms, reflecting the quintessence of the political system.
Given the legally binding nature of constitutional texts, comments mainly originated from the lawyers' side. Ethical-theological reflections hardly interfere at this level, since the principles of Western liberal democracies are deemed to be of a political nature and, moreover, are in most cases generally accepted. The discussion starts when those rights, e.g. on a qualitative life, on the freedom of expression or on social integration, have to be applied in operational terms.
Until recently, the EU was only indirectly involved in these debates, since it focused its attention on market integration and international trade issues. The Treaty on European Union (1992), however, triggered by the radical regime change in Central- and Eastern-Europe, has initiated a novel process of self-definition, ending up in a quasi-constitutional set of values and principles to be integrated in the Reform Treaty (2007).
Although these principles are shared by all member states, their innovative formulation is primarily taking place at the EU level. Moreover, they are not only perceived as potential political-legal guidelines, but as a system of values. The first and crucial condition for joining the EU, indeed, is the respect for its values and the commitment to promoting them together (Constitutional Treaty, art. 1.2).
Whatever the outcome may be of the negotiation of a revised Constitutional Treaty, it is clear that the EU has developed into a Community of Values, some of them being formulated in much more operational terms than the traditional constitutions mentioned above.