Parliamentary question by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission
(10 June 2003)

Subject: Violation of religious freedom in Russia through exclusive cooperation agreements with the Russian Orthodox Church

The 1993 Constitution proclaims that Russia is a secular state in which there is no state religion and religious organisations are separate from the state and equal before the law.

The 1997 federal law on religion establishes that religious organisations may not exercise the functions of state institutions and may not accompany the proceedings of government bodies with religious ceremonies.

In view of the cooperation agreements concluded by the Russian Orthodox Church:

- with the Ministry of Defence in 1997 with a view to 'working together to revive Orthodox traditions in the Russian army and navy',

- with the Ministry of Education in August 1999 with a view to 'educating the young generations in the spirit of old moral values' (including, in particular, numerous attempts by the Russian Orthodox Church to bolster its influence within the Russian education system),

- with the Ministry of Health and the Foreign Ministry on 5 and 6 March 2003 respectively,

- with many Russian local authorities,

and given that the constant increase in concordat agreements between the Russian Orthodox Church and various state bodies, both at federal and at local levels, has conferred on this Church special powers, thereby discriminating against other religious faiths, and given it special and exclusive access to prisons, the army, schools and hospitals,

will the Commission state:

- whether it is aware of the above cooperation agreements between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian State, discriminating against other religious faiths?

- what measures it intends to take to ensure that religious freedom is restored in Russia, as required by the Russian Constitution and the federal law on religion?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(16 July 2003)

The Commission is aware of the difficult situation facing religious group in Russia.

The EU/Russia partnership is based on fundamental core values, among which is full respect of human rights. The Commission frequently raises its concerns about the need for Russia to guarantee the full respect of human rights in the context of our political dialogue.

The Commission will continue to impress upon the Russian authorities that the major international and European Human Rights conventions that Russia has ratified, which include reference to freedom of religion or belief, must be complied with. It appears that certain measures grant privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church as compared with other religions and may therefore be incompatible with the principle of State neutrality towards religious institutions. In addition to this, it should be recalled that Russia is a focus country under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights programme, a Commission programme which aims, inter alia, to promote Human Rights.