BRUSSELS, 08.03.2010 – Despite positive initiatives, the EU’s policy regarding freedom of religion or belief could be far more cohesive, concluded the participants of the public hearing on “Freedom of religion or belief in EU’s external relations.” The hearing which was hosted by (SP) Member of European Parliament Dennis de Jong, took place in the European Parliament on Wednesday 3 March. The European Platform on Religious Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID) organised the meeting.

The Lisbon Treaty has impacted the EU’s competences in the field of external policy. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will announce her policy and how she would be setting up the External Action Service in April. The hearing took place in anticipation of this, involving academics, diplomats and representatives of the European Union, who came up with concrete proposals to give freedom of religion or belief a more visible role in the foreign policy of the EU. This policy should aim for respect and tolerance. The EU should speak out clearly against violations of freedom of religion or belief and the persecution of religious minorities.

EU Member States do pay attention to freedom of religion or belief but hardly exchanged best practices until now. Beatriz Lorenzo from the Spanish EU Presidency indicated Spain’s intention to coordinate the proposals of various Member States. Continuance of this practice after the Spanish Presidency is of the utmost importance. One of the concrete proposals is to draw up a list with countries of concern for particularly serious violations of freedom of religion and belief. Furthermore, all speakers agreed on the necessity of a solid training on this issue for the new EU diplomacy service. In the coming time, participants of the hearing will be working from their own expertise on getting this issue higher on the EU agenda.

You will find EPRID’s recommendations < href="http://www.eprid.eu/website/images/stories/eprid/eprid%20recommendations%203%20march%202010.pdf">here.

Some of the contributions of the speakers can be found here.