The EU’s engagement with Muslims

At an international conference in Sarajevo (28-29 September) entitled ‘A Legal Framework for Islam in a European context’, organised jointly by Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, David Friggieri, the European Commission’s Coordinator for combating anti-Muslim hatred, described the EU’s constitutional public order as one based on cultural, religious and humanist traditions. He outlined its implications for religions and the EU’s engagement with Muslims in Europe.

Friggieri emphasised the EU’s set of common values, namely democracy, the rule of law, human rights, pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men.

What emerges is a public order characterised by constitutional tolerance; a proper balancing of cultural, religious and humanist elements; and a commitment to a common set of basic values which, however, does not attempt to homogenize, within EU law, the differing national religious, cultural and moral traditions.

The EU does not have any explicit competence to legislate on religious matters. Consequently, the main legal framework on religious matters is determined by the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

With this constitutional framework as a backdrop, the EU engages with Muslims via two main prisms: the Commission’s dialogue with churches and religious associations and communities; and the Commission’s recently-appointed Coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred. Furthermore, the European External Action Service engages with religion more generally within its Global Foreign Policy Strategy while the European Parliament operates through its Anti-Racism and Discrimination Intergroup.

Through the dialogue, the Commission has engaged with Muslim religious leaders and representatives of Muslim organizations for over 10 years, on topics which cover all aspects of EU policies and current events such as Overcoming the economic crisis, Life-long learning, Living together and disagreeing well and Contributions to a sustainable environment. The next dialogue with religious leaders, scheduled for 29 November will tackle Migration, Integration and European values.

Representatives of the Muslim community invited to the dialogue hail from Sunni and Shia backgrounds, while the Commission has also held meetings with the Islamic community in BiH.

In December last year Friggieri was appointed the Commission’s first Coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred.

This appointment came immediately after the Commission’s First Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in October 2015 which was the Commission’s reaction to a number of reports from international and civil society organizations as well as events on the ground over the past years which point to an increase in fear and insecurity among Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe and a spike in hate crime. A separate Coordinator addresses the fight against Antisemitism.

The key task of the two coordinators is to bring to the attention of the political level of the Commission the specific concerns of the respective communities.