It was towards the end of the 1980s that President Delors (1985–1994) established the Dialogue with religions, churches and communities of conviction. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a turning point in Europe and made the President aware of the need to think about the major challenges for the future of the European venture: the prospect of enlargement of the European Community and the construction of a political union that would match the ambitions of the economic and monetary union.
This political union had to be founded on a European identity and a sense of belonging. And so President Delors felt it necessary to talk to representatives of organisations active in the fields of science, culture and religion in order to exchange ideas about the meaning and implications of the European venture. He therefore decided that the Commission should hold a regular dialogue with religions, churches and communities of conviction. His successors, Jacques Santer and Romano Prodi, and the current President, José Manuel Barroso, have continued this.
It is in the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) that we first find Declaration No 11 on the status of churches and non-confessional organisations, which provides that "The European Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States. The European Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organisations".
We then find a second reference to religions in the White Paper on European Governance of 25 July 2001. In the chapter on involving civil society it says "Civil society plays an important role in giving voice to the concerns of citizens and delivering services that meet people's needs. Churches and religious communities have a particular contribution to make".
On 7 December 2001 the Charter of Fundamental Rights was proclaimed at the Nice European Council. Article 10 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion reads "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance".
Finally, the Treaty of Lisbon explicitly introduces the idea of a Dialogue between European institutions and religions, churches and communities of conviction (Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
Article 17 provides for an open, transparent and regular dialogue.
Open means that anyone who wishes to take part in the Dialogue can do so. It is not actually within the European Commission's power to define – either on a national or European level – the relationship between the State and churches, religious communities and philosophical and non-confessional organisations. The European Commission therefore accepts as partners in the Dialogue all organisations that are recognised by the Member States as churches, religious communities or communities of conviction.
Transparent means that everyone should have the right to know, at any time, who are the Dialogue's partners, and what are its objectives and results. The aim of this site is to make the Dialogue more transparent and to provide information about related events.
Regular refers to the ongoing Dialogue the European Commission maintains with its partners at various levels, in the form of bilateral meetings or specific events.
The Dialogue has benefits for both sides. It is an opportunity for religious and communities of conviction to keep abreast of the process of European integration so that they can contribute to it with their views on policy plans.
The Dialogue must therefore be regarded as a channel of communication between the European Commission and religions, churches and communities of conviction.
The European Commission has regular bilateral exchanges with partners at their request.
The Dialogue also regularly organises events at various levels.