How the European External Action Service Deals with Religion through Religious Freedom

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Series Details Volume 2017, Number 7
Publication Date May 2017
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The purpose of this paper is to understand why and how the European External Action Service (EEAS) has developed a specific approach towards religion, an approach characterised by the focus on freedom of religion and belief (FoRB). The research question is to assess the level of autonomy and distinctiveness of religion as a policy issue. The European diplomatic strategy on religion reflects geopolitical and societal
changes at the global scale. It is also an effort of the EEAS to assert itself as a political player and to reinforce the profile of the European Union (EU) in international relations. In practice, the handling of religion is framed by the usual EU policy-making: ideational incentives (advocacy for FoRB, display of European unity and identity) matter but are secondary to realist ones (interests and security concerns); the risk-averse culture of diplomats and European bureaucracies leads them to defer to the states and to prioritise a legal approach to religion.

This paper draws on academic and institutional literature; the analysis of the adoption and implementation of the 2013 EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief; an online survey of EU Delegations around the world; and interviews with national and European officials.

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