When the European Union (EU) Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) were adopted in 2013, they were applauded as an advancement of EU commitments to FoRB. The Guidelines sparked the hopes of both academics and practitioners in the field that FoRB would be placed higher on the EU agenda.
Although five years have passed since the adoption of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief (EU Guidelines on FoRB), and despite the EU‘s commitment to evaluate implementation three years after their adoption, the Working Party on Human Rights in the Council (COHOM) has not produced any publicly available document to date. Such a situation lends itself to two hypotheses: either (a) reports on the implementation do exist institutionally, but are not made public (in which case, issues of transparency and weak inter-institutional and civic dialogue arise), or (b) no report on the implementation has been drawn up (in which case COHOM is in breach of its commitments set out by the EU Guidelines on FoRB).
This article will show that, in either case, the EU is not respecting its commitments in the area of FoRB. The research will also put forward recommendations on how the EU could make better and more efficient use of the EU Guidelines on FoRB.
The Maastricht Treaty, adopted in 1992, enshrined human rights into treaty obligations of the Union and of Member States. Although the Maastricht Treaty does not bind the Union to a specific list of human rights, it sets the ground for subsequent treaties to articulate and crystallise the human rights obligations incumbent on the Union and on Member States. More visibly, the Treaty of Lisbon enshrined the EU‘s commitment to promoting and securing human rights and fundamental freedoms in its external action, stating that the EU:
Shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation […] and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.
It also commits the EU to a ‘ high degree of cooperation ‘ intended to bring coherence and consistency between the internal and external actions of the EU.