It’s a cloudy and rainy day in Brussels. Men with trolley bags are walking past in their long woolen coats, ready to start their work week in the political heart of Europe. A large apartment close to the headquarters of the European Commission – which serves as the “executive branch” of the European Union – houses the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), a European political party defending Christian values in Europe. Inside, Dutchman Leo van Doesburg, director for European Affairs of the ECPM, is in his office having a cup of coffee. He is a very busy man: Conferences, dinner parties, a party congress, lots of meetings and other appointments. Still, Van Doesburg comes across as upbeat and light-hearted.
Recommendations and guidelines
Recently the Council of Europe issued a new resolution, put together with the help of Members of Parliament of the ECPM. The resolution states that palliative care is “of fundamental importance to human dignity” and therefore a human right which needs to be available to every European. At the moment hundreds of thousands of Europeans don’t have access to palliative care, meaning they are suffering an unnecessary amount of pain. This resolution means it’s easier for patients to win a case in their national court when demanding palliative care. However, Van Doesburg said in Belgium, they are trying to include euthanasia as a form of palliative care.
“In that case assisted suicide would be a human right for patients in the 47 countries represented in the Council of Europe. Thank goodness we were able to prevent that,” he said.
(Founded in 1949 and based in Strasburg, the Council of Europe is separate from the European Union. It runs the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, and so is the most important non-EU continental body.)
Resolutions issued by the Council of Europe are not binding for the countries represented in the council. However, these resolutions are often taken into account by the judges of the European Court of Human Rights as a recommendation or guideline.
“When the surrogate mother for a gay couple refused to give up the baby after delivery and the couple demanded the child would be handed over to them, a Dutch judge rejected their claim. The Council of Europe had just rejected a resolution to enable the use of a surrogate. Judges do take these resolutions into consideration when coming to a decision,” Van Doesburg said.
“The ECPM was founded in 2005, in a time when secular thinking got an ever-growing hold on Europe. At the same time Christians became more and more silent. In 2004, ten countries became member states of the EU. Among them were Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, countries with Christian political parties who are stronger together than apart,” he told Katholiek Nieuwsblad.
The ECPM started out as a movement, but in 2010 turned into an official European political party which receives funding.
“These funds enabled us to found a think tank called Sallux, an association which supports conferences and sends out publications. There is also a youth section of ECPM, called ECPYouth,” said Van Doesburg. Six Members of the EU’s European Parliament are part of ECPM, which now unites dozens of members, political parties and associations of almost every European country.
Defending the family
The ECPM focuses on five things, the first being the defense of human dignity and human life from conception to natural death. Healthy families and healthy marriages are also a priority and need to be protected and fortified, according to Van Doesburg.
“We believe that a family is based on the marriage of a man and a woman and those two having children together,” he said.
According to many Christians the traditional family is under pressure.
“Many new laws and regulations pose a threat to the family. Secular values are being sold by using Christian phrases like ‘love of one’s neighbor’ and ‘no discrimination’. We are by no means a countermovement! But who is still defending the family at this moment?” Van Doesburg asked.
Van Doesburg sighed and added: “When something gets legalized, it changes a nation’s culture. The first step is a taboo being tolerated, and then being promoted. Assisted suicide is a good example of boundaries being continually extended. It starts with terminally ill patients who are suffering greatly. Then followed by people suffering from dementia and people who feel that their life is completed, whatever that means.”
He said the same thing is happening with prostitution and drugs, and also when it comes to the family.
“First we said: We will legalize other forms of cohabitation, because we see it happen all around us. Now these other forms are being heavily promoted. The problem is that Christians often do not see where these actions might lead to.”
Fighting human trafficking
The ECPM also focuses on the freedom of faith, conscience and expression, and on the fight against human trafficking. In 2014, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe issued resolutions which encourage European member states to criminalize clients and traffickers of prostitutes.
This followed the model in Sweden, because this proved to be the most effective in the fight against human trafficking.
“Right now, we’re trying to convince countries to offer so-called prostitution-exiting programs to prostitutes,” explained Van Doesburg.
Last but not least, the ECPM also wants to stimulate sustainable entrepreneurship.
“We like to call this ‘relational economy’,” Van Doesburg said. “It’s based on relationships and on the long term, instead of fast profits for the shareholders. Once a year there is a European Economic Summit for Christian entrepreneurs.”
We need to be critical of social developments, Van Doesburg continued, citing the pro-choice movement as an example.
“People who are pro-choice, only ever promote abortion. I used the hashtag #prochoiceisnochoice on Twitter for a while. People advocating pro-choice were very fierce in their reactions, but couldn’t answer the questions I asked them on Twitter: Do you ever organize a campaign about abortion, about the consequences of abortion and the need for counseling before deciding to get an abortion? Do you ever post positive stories about mothers who decided to keep their child? How do you protect women? By supporting them financially, sending them to therapy? Don’t you think it’s getting harder for pregnant teenage girls not to succumb to social pressure and decide to keep their baby?”
Belief in community
European elections will be held in May of this year. The ECPM is hoping to grow in order to continue putting on a united front against the growing secularization in Europe.
“Socialists believe that the government is responsible for almost everything. Liberals believe mostly in the power of the individual. But we Christians believe in the community, with the family as its foundation,” said Van Doesburg.
His upbeat and positive message, combined with his generous smile, is contagious. Did he receive intensive media training?
“I read a book once about Catholic Voices, which really appealed to me. And I like to talk to other people, also with people whose opinions are not my own. We do not aim to attack others, but to defend human dignity. To see people the way God created them.”
This article was originally published in the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad on Jan. 4, 2019. It was translated for Crux by Susanne Kurstjens-van den Berk.