Brussels – On 30 November 2023, Maxette Pirbakas, MEP for Overseas France, welcomed participants to a conference on the protection of the rights of religious and spiritual minorities in Europe.
In her opening speech, MEP Maxette Pirbakas acknowledged Europe’s complex history when it comes to religion. She pointed out that religions have often been “engines or pretexts for savagery”, referring to the persecution of early Christians and the atrocities committed against Jews in the 20th century. At the same time, Pirbakas pointed out that it was in Europe that the ideas of religious tolerance and freedom were born. “Shadows and light: that’s Europe”, she summed up.
According to Pirbakas, Europe’s founding fathers attached particular importance to the issue of religious freedom from the outset. They made the protection of minority groups an essential part of Europe’s democratic culture.
According to Maxette Pirbakas, a balanced compromise embodies the EU’s global approach. By avoiding the adoption of an EU-wide religious statute and leaving it to the Member States to regulate worship, she believes that Europe has wisely avoided homogenising national points of view. It has left a margin of discretion to the Member States while ensuring that they do not use it to violate fundamental rights, in particular those of religious and spiritual minorities. “Confronting points of view and finding a point of balance” is Europe’s speciality, said MEP Pirbakas.
Maxette Pirbakas concluded by recalling principles such as individual free will, the protection of minority rights and the fact that States should only restrict religion for demonstrable reasons of public order. She referred to the dangerous attempts to deal with the new “heretics” by trying to create new legislation that would endanger the precious freedom of thought and expression. The standard penal codes, if applied correctly, are more than sufficient to punish anyone who breaks the laws without having to examine the religious, spiritual or political background of the individuals, stating that “the current tools are sufficient if applied correctly“.
Encouraging continued dialogue, Pirbakas described debates on religion as “always passionate”. But she expressed the hope that the EU could remain an ally of all spiritual views by ensuring that Member States respect fundamental freedoms, to help Europe “live together in our differences and diversity”.
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