‘Agenda Europe’: an extremist Christian network in the heart of Europe

The 'Agenda Europe', a pan-European, Christian-extremist network, is committed to the 'restoration of natural order'. A text on why one should be aware of the existence of such networks.

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In 2018, the French public television channel ARTE[1] and the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development[2] revealed the existence and inner workings of a pan-European Christian extremist network going under the innocuous name of “Agenda Europe”.  Created in 2013, Agenda Europe convenes an annual secretive “Summit” in different European capitals gathering between 100 and 150 individuals and organizations from the main anti-choice (for them “pro-life”) and homophobic (for them “pro-family”) movements across 30 countries of the continent.

In addition to an annual members-only ‘Summit’ where Chatham House rules apply, Agenda Europe shares a blog[3] where members comment on developments from an ultra-Conservative perspective as well as a joint manifesto entitled “Restoring the Natural Order”. “Restoring the Natural Order” reveals a radically reactionary worldview which, if successfully implemented, would remove human rights in matters of sexual and reproduction of every single European and specifically for certain categories of persons, such as women, young people, and the LGBTQI community.

“Restoring the Natural Order”

The main argument developed in “Restoring the Natural Order” holds that laws should reflect ‘Natural Law’[4] and that this ‘Natural Law’ should itself uphold ‘Human Dignity’. ‘Human Dignity’ is then further sub-divided into three components; first, the protection of ‘life’ from the moment of conception to natural death; second, the protection of ‘the family’ exclusively defined as the traditional, patriarchal and heterosexual family; and finally protection of ‘religious freedom’, specifically placing religious beliefs above the law by asserting the right of religious people to derogate from legislation on hate speech, discrimination and the provision of services.

In practice “Restoring the Natural Order” serves as the blueprint to roll back not just advances in equal marriage or women’s right to choose, but also seeks to limit access to assisted reproduction, comprehensive sexuality education, protection from gender-based violence, contraception, and even divorce. In short, the natural order being restored resembles very much a new dark age where religious obscurantism prevails over tolerance, human rights, and secular law. And “Restoring the Natural Order” is being actively implemented across Europe.  

The organization of the network in Europe

Throughout their private meetings since 2013, Agenda Europe members have been able to exchange, learn from each other and strategize, like any other modern social movement. From these meetings, Agenda Europe members then deployed a range of policy initiatives at both national and European level. For example, to halt the progress on equal marriage, Agenda Europe utilized instruments for participatory democracy such petitions and citizens’ initiatives which often lead to a referendum or other formal reaction from decision-makers. This took place in Croatia[5], Slovenia[6], Slovakia[7], Romania[8] and at EU level with the failed European Citizen’s initiative entitled “Mum, Dad, and Kids”[9].

Regarding women’s right to choose, Agenda Europe members in Spain and Poland were the ones who wrote and promoted the draft laws to restrict abortion in Spain[10] severely in 2014 and the complete ban on abortion proposed in Poland[11] in 2016. At EU level, Agenda Europe members divided up the tasks among themselves in organising and collecting the 1.7 million signatures for the European Citizens’ Initiative “One of Us”[12] calling on the Commission to halt all EU funding which involved the destruction of the human embryo, which they defined as including improving maternal health in developing countries as that could include legal abortion. Altogether, in their five years of existence, Agenda Europe has been the source of at least 18 policy initiatives at a national level, the European Union and the Council of Europe, which has aimed to undermine women’s rights to abortion and LGBTQI rights. While many failed, such as their European Citizens’ Initiatives, others have succeeded, mainly in halting progress on LGBTQI rights.

The members of 'Agenda Europe'

The 100 to 150 individuals and organizations who make up Agenda Europe come from a diversity of backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common - they share a Christian belief. Putting aside their differences as Catholics, traditionalist Protestants or Orthodox Christians, they have come together to find a way to translate Christian religious ideas, often representing the most conservative interpretations of their faiths, into actual law using secularised, human-rights vocabulary. To achieve this, they have developed specific strategies including portraying themselves, Christians, as the victims of social progress in equality legislation as they would no longer be allowed to discriminate legally.

Convened by two ‘Vatican-surrogates’, i.e., individuals with close personal and professional connections to the Holy See hierarchy, Agenda Europe Summit gathers several categories of persons. The first among them are the “Luminaries”, namely those trans-national actors who develop the thinking and strategies in specific areas such as overturning abortion laws, opposing anti-discrimination laws and opposing LGBTQI equality. These strategies are then taken up, domesticated and implemented at national level at the appropriate time by the national level implementers. This is how similar anti-abortion, anti-gender and homophobic initiatives and mobilizations happened in geographically diverse locations since 2013. Another category of individuals are the Agenda Europe ‘Insiders’, namely influential persons within decision-making spaces such as elected politicians, government officials, EU and Council of Europe officials and even persons of ministerial ranking or inside the judiciary. Finally, every social movement depends upon the support of its generous donors, and for this, Agenda Europe can turn to a colorful cast of European aristocrats, Russian oligarchs, climate-change-denying billionaires, corrupt Italian politicians, and the US Christian right.

Far from cuddly Christians who are the unfortunate victims of the intolerance of secular society, Agenda Europe members should be judged by the company they chose to keep. This company includes a Russian named Alexey Komov[13], who is the international representative of a Moscow-based, Orthodox foundation which belongs to an oligarch banned from entering the EU for his support to the armed rebels of Eastern Ukraine. Another Summit participant and Agenda Europe luminary, Luca Volonté[14], is a former Italian politician who once presided the Council of Europe’s largest political party, is also under several investigations for having accepted bribes from Azerbaijan for favorable votes. A leading member of Agenda Europe from Spain, Ignacio Arsuaga, lost a court case for defamation when he hit the headlines as the representative of a secretive, Mexican, para-military, ultra-Catholic organization known as “El Yunque” [15]. Finally, the host of the Agenda Europe Summit in Warsaw in 2016, Aleksander Stepkowski[16], founded an organization in Poland which is part of a trans-national network[17] which in France has been labeled by public bodies as a “pseudo-Catholic, cult-like movement”[18]. Stepkowski was State Secretary in the Polish government when he welcomed the gathering in 2016, in February 2019 was appointed to the new Supreme Court[19]. In sum, Agenda Europe has brought together the most socially conservative, traditionalist and in some case, marginal and far-right Christian religious movements and actors into a single organizing network.

The challenges to democracy often first target women’s rights and sexual minorities and judging by recent developments in Russia, Poland, and Spain as well as the campaigns against the Istanbul Convention, it looks like Agenda Europe’s next target are laws on gender-based violence[20]. Thus, for progressive actors and politicians who are concerned at the erosion of democratic values within Europe, being aware of the existence of Agenda Europe is crucial. People of faith should also be concerned as the most fringe elements of their community now claim to speak on behalf of all Christians.

[1] Siehe “IVG: Les croisés contreattaquent” which aired on 6 March 2018, http://www.film-documentaire.fr/4DACTION/w_fiche_film/51802_1

[2] Siehe “Restoring the Natural Order”: The religious extremists’ vision to mobilize European societies against human rights on sexuality and reproduction, released on 20 April 2018, https://www.epfweb.org/node/690

[4] Definition des Naturrechts in der Encyclopædia Britannica: „Ein System von Recht oder Gerechtigkeit, das für alle Menschen gleichermaßen gilt und von der Natur und nicht von gesellschaftlichen Regeln oder dem Positivrecht abgeleitet ist". Die Mitglieder der Agenda Europe fordern, konservative, christliche, religiöse Positionen zu Sexualität, Fortpflanzung und Moral aus dem Naturrecht zu übernehmen.

[5] The Guardian. 2013. “Croatians vote to ban gay marriage.” The Guardian, 1 December 2013.

[6] Oliveira, Ivo. 2015. “Slovenia says No to gay marriage.” Politico, 20 December 2015.

[7] BBC. 2015. “Slovakia referendum to strengthen same-sex marriage ban fails.” BBC website, 8 February 2015.

[8] Norris, Sian. 2017. “How Romania became a battleground in the transatlantic backlash against LGBT rights.” Open Democracy website, 14 December 2017.

[9] European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Mum, Dad & Kids’, ECI(2015)000006. http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/initiatives/obsolete/details/2015/000006.

[10] The Guardian. 2013. “Spain government approves restrictive abortion law despite opposition.” The Guardian, 20 December 2013.

[11] Siehe Ordo Iuris. 2016. “Civic Legislation Initiative: Equal legal protection for children before and after birth.” Ordo Iuris website, 3 April 2016. http://www.ordoiuris.pl/en/civic-legislation-initiative-equal-legal-protection-children-and-after-birth

[12] European Citizens’ Initiative ‘One of Us’, ECI(2012)000005. http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/initiatives/successful/details/2012/000005.

[13] Madalin Necsutu, “Moldova to Host Global Christian Right-Wing Congress” BIRN January 23, 2018, https://balkaninsight.com/2018/01/23/moldova-to-host-world-congress-of-families-before-elections-01-23-2018/

[14] Feder, J. Lester, and Alberto Nardelli. 2017. “This Anti-Abortion Leader Is Charged With Laundering Money From Azerbaijan.” BuzzFeed website, 26 April 2017.

[15] José L. Lobo, Una jueza destapa los vínculos entre la secta secreta El Yunque y 'ultras' de Hazte Oír, El Confidencial, 30 May 2014

[17] Piątek, Tomasz. 2017a. “Ordo Iuris i brazylijska sekta. Kim są obrońcy życia od samego poczęcia.” Wyborcza, 27 March. http://wyborcza.pl/7,75968,21554217,ordo-iuris-i-brazylijska-sekta-kim-sa-obroncy-zycia-od-samego.html?disableRedirects=true.

[18] Assemblée Nationale. 1999. Les sectes et l’argent, N° 1687, Rapport fait au nom de la Commission d’enquête sur la situation financière, patrimoniale et fiscale des sectes ainsi que leurs activités économiques et leurs relations avec les milieux économiques et financiers, 10 juin 1999, Rapporteur M. Jean-Pierre Brard. Paris: Assemblée nationale. http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/dossiers/sectes/sommaire.asp.

[19]Mariusz Jałoszewski, Założyciel Ordo Iuris wchodzi do Sądu Najwyższego. To już drugi aktywista tej formacji w SN, Oko Press, 21 February 2019, https://oko.press/zalozyciel-ordo-iuris-wchodzi-do-sadu-najwyzszego-to-juz-drugi-aktywista-tej-formacji-w-sn/

[20] El Pais, Hazte Oír usa la imagen de Hitler en un autobús para caricaturizar las leyes contra la violencia machista, 28 February 2019