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Europe from the roots down

Interview | As Europe ponders its future, Italian Minister Rocco Buttiglione sees 'radical secularism' at the heart of a continental divide

Issue: "Simpsons: Fair or Foul?," June 11, 2005

If the experts and the commentators struggled to explain why voters in two key EU states refused to ratify the constitution last week, the cartoonists could peg it.

Said the first guy at the bar to the second in one Dick Wright spoof: "I see the French shot down the European Union constitution . . . They're being so . . . so . . ." "French!" replied the second guy.

To many the rationale behind the constitutional referendum's defeat is about as easy to understand as spending 21 euros ($26) on a plate of snails.

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Socialists and others on the French left voted non on the referendum because of its "Anglo-Saxon" (read: free market) economic policies. Rightists voted against it for its lack of same-and to oppose ever more centralization of power in Brussels, where the EU's unelected commissioners drafted what should have been the organization's core document. Yet even its size remained open to question, at one point reaching 852 pages before it was renumbered to 349.

The constitution, which needed approval from all 25 member states, was defeated in France by 55 percent of voters and in the Netherlands by 63 percent of those who went to the polls. The results reflect a growing gap between the EU's coddled bureaucracy and electorates. French and Dutch voters expressed resentment over the EU's growing take from their own coffers even as they also dislike the budgetary and regulatory restrictions the Brussels bureaucrats impose.

Former European Commission president Roman Prodi predicted before the polls that no votes in France would mean "the end of Europe." Afterwards, calling the outcome "a disaster," he noted that at least it wasn't as bad as the U.S. Civil War. "I'm serious now. We must keep this perspective in mind. We don't have a treaty, but we also don't have wars," he said.

Such comments betrayed the confusion and surprise on the part of politicians who only a week before believed they and their electorate were in sync.

But Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage Rocco Buttiglione believes there is an underlying root to the disaffection. The continent's radical secularism, he told WORLD, not only cannot solve its problems but will hasten its dissolution.

Along with other leading scholars and religious leaders, Mr. Buttiglione opposed the constitution because it failed to acknowledge at least one thing: Europe's roots. In its passage on the foundation of European civilization, the constitution fails to make reference to Christianity.

Before that campaign Mr. Buttiglione already was a household name in Europe, an adjective even, after an EU parliamentary panel rejected his nomination to the European Commission. Mr. Buttiglione told the panelists he held a traditional view of marriage and believed homosexuality was a sin-statements that led to his dismissal and prompted politicians to steer from "the Buttiglione treatment" and the French press to warn against "the Buttiglione misadventures."

The Italian reports that he is "not pessimistic," despite Europe's present woes. "Jesus has promised that the Church will survive, not European Christians," said Mr. Buttiglione, who is a lawyer by training and a university professor, in addition to political organizer.

WORLD: How do you account for the animosity toward Christian thought that has captivated European leaders?

BUTTIGLIONE: The European left thinks that anybody who has a strong stand on ethical religious issues is dangerous for democracy. The left thinks that only moral relativism can ground a modern democracy. The other idea of democracy is that each human being has the right and the duty of searching for truth and of affirming the truth he has discovered. The principle of nondiscrimination, in this vision, is dependent upon the respect of human dignity.

Human dignity implies that although I do not agree with you and think you are wrong, I am ready to give my life in order to preserve your right of being wrong. In order to recognize truth you must be free. If I take away your freedom, I take away also your possibility of recognizing truth. A materially just act performed not out of liberty but out of fear or of coercion has no moral value or, rather, has a negative moral value.

The choice is: democracy based on relativism or democracy based on the transcendent value of the human person? The left is relativist and supports a thought police against those who have firm values and clear beliefs.

WORLD: Where is that animosity most apparent?

BUTTIGLIONE: A European Commissioner has been repealed for having said that he might hold that homosexuality is a sin [in my case], although this has no effects on politics because there is a difference between politics and morality, and in the political domain the relevant concept is not sin but nondiscrimination or justice.

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