Religion in the European Union

Self-described religion in the European Union (2012)[1]

  Catholic (48%)
  Protestant (12%)
  Orthodox (8%)
  Other Christian (4%)
  Non believer/Agnostic (16%)
  Atheist (7%)
  Muslim (2%)
  Other religion/None stated (3%)
Further information: Religion in Europe
St. Peter's Basilica from Castel Sant'Angelo showing the dome rising behind Maderno's facade.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Łódź, Poland.
Mosque of Rome, the largest mosque in Europe.
The East London Mosque was one of the first in Britain to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan.[2]

Religion in the European Union is a diverse matter with significant levels of belief in all EU member states. The largest religion in the EU is Christianity, which accounts for 72% of EU population,[3] with its largest denominations being Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (especially in the north), and Eastern Orthodoxy.[4] Smaller groups include those of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and some East Asian religions, most concentrated in Britain and France. Also present are revival movements of pre-Christianity European folk religions including Heathenism, Rodnovery, Romuva, and Druidry.[5]

Over the last several decades, religious practice has been on the decline in a process of secularisation.[6] Eurostat's Eurobarometer opinion polls showed in 2010 that 49% of EU citizens did not believe in God.[7] Many countries have experienced falling church attendance and membership in recent years.[8]

Countries with the fewest people reporting belief in God are the Czech Republic (16%), Estonia (18%), and Sweden (18%).[7] The most religious countries are Malta (94%; predominantly Roman Catholic), Cyprus (~90%; predominantly Orthodox), and Romania (~90%; predominantly Orthodox).[7] Across the EU, belief is more common with age and is higher amongst women, those with only basic education, and those "positioning themselves on the right of the political scale (57%)".[9]

Church and state

The EU is a secular body, i.e., there is a separation of church and state. There are no formal ties to any religion and no mention of religion in any current or proposed treaty.[10] Discussion over the draft texts of the European Constitution and later the Treaty of Lisbon have included proposals to mention Christianity and/or God in the preamble of the text. This call has been supported by Christian religious leaders, most notably the Pope.[11] However explicit inclusion of a link to religion faced opposition from secularists and the final Constitution referred to Europe's "Religious and Humanist inheritance". A second attempt to include Christianity in the treaty was undertaken in 2007 with the drafting of the Treaty of Lisbon. Angela Merkel promised the Pope that she would use her influence during Germany's presidency to try to include a reference to Christianity and God in the treaty. This has provoked opposition, not least in the German press,[12] and as this inclusion may have caused problems in reaching a final agreement, this attempt was given up.[13] Of the Union's 28 states, only four have an official state religion, these being Denmark (Church of Denmark), Greece (Church of Greece), Malta (Roman Catholic Church) and England in the UK (Church of England). Some other churches have a close relationship with the state.[14] Until 2000, the Church of Sweden was the state church of Sweden and while never accepting the status, the Church of Scotland was often considered to be the Established Church in Scotland, until the position was clarified finally in Parliament in the 1920s.

In the secularising EU, The Vatican has been vocal against a perceived "militant atheism". It based this on a number of events, for example: the rejection of religious references in the Constitution and Treaty of Lisbon, the rejection by Parliament of Rocco Buttiglione as Justice Commissioner in 2004,[11] while at the same time Parliament approved Peter Mandelson (who is gay[15]) as Trade Commissioner, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain.[11] The European Parliament has also been calling for same-sex marriages to be recognised across the EU.[16] Meanwhile, states such as Latvia and Poland[17] have rejected legislation designed to stop discrimination against homosexuals. This has been stated to be on religious grounds, with homosexual behaviour described as "unnatural", and the Catholic Church influencing public opinion. The difference of opinion between these countries and Brussels has been damaging relations.[14][18]

Due to the rise of other religions, and some intolerance towards them, the EU Commission now regularly meets with different religious leaders.[19] In November 2005, a delegation from the European Humanist Federation was invited to a meeting by Commissioner-President Barroso. This was the first time a humanist group had been consulted in this manner by the Commission. President Romano Prodi has refused such meetings, despite meeting various religious leaders, causing some resentment by humanists.[20]


Atheism and agnosticism has increased among the general population in Europe, with falling church attendance and membership in many countries.[8][21] The countries where the fewest people reported a religious belief were the Czech Republic (16% professed belief in a God), Estonia (18% professed belief in a God) and Sweden (18% professed belief in a God).[7] In such countries, even those who have a faith can be disdainful of organised religion.[22] The most religious societies are those in Malta with 94% (predominantly Roman Catholic), and Cyprus and Romania both with about 90% of their citizens believing in a God. Across the EU, belief was higher among: the elderly, those with strict upbringings, those with the lowest levels of formal education, those leaning towards right-wing politics, those questioning the meaning and purpose to life, and those more concerned with moral and ethical issues in science and technology over risk-benefit analysis.[9]

In 2012, the highest ever number of births outside of marriage were recorded in the European Union, at 40%,[23] with first-births out of wedlock and cohabitation figures being even higher. Seven EU countries recorded a majority of births outside of marriage - Estonia (59% in 2014[24]), Bulgaria (58.8% in 2014[25]), Slovenia (58.3% in 2014[26]), France (57.4% in 2014[27]), Sweden (54.4% in 2013[28]), Belgium (52.3% in 2012[28]), and Denmark (51.5% in 2013[28]). These countries tend to be less religious ones (less than half of the population believing in a God) whereas half of the European population believes in a God.[29]


Most EU countries have experienced a decline in church attendance, as well as a decline in the number of people professing a belief in a God. The Eurobarometer Poll 2010 found that, on average, 51% of the citizens of EU member states state that they believe in a God, 26% believe there is some sort of spirit or life force while 20% do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force. 3% declined to answer.[7] According to a recent study (Dogan, Mattei, Religious Beliefs in Europe: Factors of Accelerated Decline), 47% of Frenchmen declared themselves as agnostic in 2003. The situation of religion varies between countries in European Union. A decrease in religiousness and church attendance in western Europe (especially the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic) has been noted and called "Post-Christian Europe". Also in the most populous eastern Europe country and EU member Poland there has been a sharp reduction in church attendance since 2005, although with 41.5% in 2009[30] still well above the single digit figures that are so typical for Sunday mass attendance in other EU countries.

Belief in God, spirit/life force, or no belief per country (Eurobarometer 2010)
Belief in God.
Belief in spirit or life force.
No belief at all.

The following is a list of European countries ranked by religiosity, based on belief in a God, according to the Eurobarometer Poll 2010. The 2010 Eurobarometer Poll asked whether the person believed "there is a God", believed "there is some sort of spirit of life force", "didn't believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force".

Eurobarometer Poll 2010[7]
Country "I believe
there is a God"
"I believe there is some
sort of spirit or life force"
"I don't believe there is any sort
of spirit, God or life force"
"Declined to answer"
Malta Malta 94% 4% 2% 0%
Romania Romania 92% 7% 1% 0%
Cyprus Cyprus 88% 8% 3% 1%
Greece Greece 79% 16% 4% 1%
Poland Poland 79% 14% 5% 2%
Italy Italy 74% 20% 6% 0%
Republic of Ireland Ireland 70% 20% 7% 3%
Portugal Portugal 70% 15% 12% 3%
Croatia Croatia 69% 22% 7% 2%
Slovakia Slovakia 63% 23% 13% 1%
Spain Spain 59% 20% 19% 2%
Lithuania Lithuania 47% 37% 12% 4%
Luxembourg Luxembourg 46% 22% 24% 8%
Hungary Hungary 45% 34% 20% 1%
Austria Austria 44% 38% 12% 6%
Germany Germany 44% 25% 27% 4%
Latvia Latvia 38% 48% 11% 3%
United Kingdom United Kingdom 37% 33% 25% 5%
Belgium Belgium 37% 31% 27% 5%
Bulgaria Bulgaria 36% 43% 15% 6%
Finland Finland 33% 42% 22% 3%
Slovenia Slovenia 32% 36% 26% 6%
Denmark Denmark 28% 47% 24% 1%
Netherlands Netherlands 28% 39% 30% 3%
France France 27% 27% 40% 6%
Estonia Estonia 18% 50% 29% 3%
Sweden Sweden 18% 45% 34% 3%
Czech Republic Czech Republic 16% 44% 37% 3%
European Union EU28 51% 26% 20% 3%


Judaism has had a long, and frequently dark, history in Europe. Prior to the Holocaust, the area of the European Union had a Jewish population of 5,375,000; it was largely exterminated in German Nazi death camps. In 2002 the EU had a Jewish population of barely over a million, including about 519,000 in France and about 273,500 in the United Kingdom (compare with about 5.8 million Jews living in Israel.[31]). In view of the history of persecution of Jews in Europe, antisemitism remains a matter of attention within the EU.[32]

Immigration has increasingly introduced religions not originally of significant adherence into Europe, most notably Islam. It was estimated that the Union's Muslim population in 2009 was 13 million people.[33] The country with the largest number of Muslims in western Europe is believed to be France with an estimated 6–7 million (though the French census does not ask religious questions) followed by Germany (4.5 million), the United Kingdom (2.7 million)[34] and Italy (1.5 million).[35] Aside from Turkey, the only possible future member to have a majority of Muslims is Albania, although other Balkan states like Bosnia and Macedonia also have sizeable Muslim populations.[36] Kosovo is also a Muslim majority area. A series of clashes and incidents connected to the religion have occurred in recent years, including: the murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy with continuing attempts to kill the cartoonist, and numerous terrorist attacks in the UK such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings.[37] In response to Islamic extremism, some figures, such as Justice Freedom & Security Commissioner Franco Frattini, have suggested creating a "European Islam" – a branch of the Islamic faith that is compatible with European values.[37]

See also


  1. "Discrimination in the EU in 2012" (PDF), Special Eurobarometer, 393, European Union: European Commission, p. 233, 2012, retrieved 14 August 2013 The question asked was "Do you consider yourself to be...?" With a card showing: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, and Non-believer/Agnostic. Space was given for Other (SPONTANEOUS) and DK. Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu did not reach the 1% threshold.
  2. Eade, John (1996). "Nationalism, Community, and the Islamization of Space in London". In Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520204042. Retrieved 19 April 2015. As one of the few mosques in Britain permitted to broadcast calls to prayer (azan), the mosque soon found itself at the center of a public debate about “noise pollution” when local non-Muslim residents began to protest.
  3. "Discrimination in the EU in 2012" (PDF), Special Eurobarometer, 383, European Union: European Commission, p. 233, 2012, retrieved 14 August 2013
  4. "Chrisianity". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
  5. Strmiska, Michael F. (2005). Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
  6. Lilla, Mark (31 March 2006). "Europe and the legend of secularization". The New York Times.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Special Eurobarometer, biotechnology, page 204" (PDF). 2010.
  8. 1 2 Ford, Peter (22 February 2005). "What place for God in Europe". USA Today. Retrieved 24 July 2009.
  9. 1 2 "Eurobarometer 225: Social values, Science & Technology" (PDF). Eurostat. 2005.
  10. "Consolidated Treaties on European Union and establishing the European Community". Eur-Lex. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  11. 1 2 3 "Vatican resists European secularism". BBC News. 11 February 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  12. "European press review: God and the EU Constitution". BBC News/Süddeutsche Zeitung. 12 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  13. Rettman, Andrew (12 September 2006). "Merkel gives up on God in EU treaty". EU Observer. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
  14. 1 2 Ferrari, Silvio. "Silvio Ferrari on "Church and State in Europe"". Concordat Watch. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  15. Shoffman, Marc (3 June 2006). "Ian McKellen ranked most influential gay man". Pink News. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  16. Belien, Paul (22 January 2006). "European Parliament Backs Gay Marriage". The Brussels Journal. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  17. "Poland urged to drop new law banning 'homosexual propaganda' in schools". European Parliament. 23 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
  18. Sheeter, Laura (16 May 2006). "Latvia defies EU over gay rights". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  19. "José Manuel Barroso meets European religious leaders". Europa (web portal). 12 July 2005. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  20. "European Humanists Meet EU President". International Humanist and Ethical Union. 13 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  21. Zuckerman, Phil (2005). "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
  22. Cline, Austin (25 February 2006). "Czech Republic: Most Atheist Country in Europe?". Retrieved 2007-07-21.
  28. 1 2 3 Riché, Preface xviii, Pierre Riché reflects: "[H]e enjoyed an exceptional destiny, and by the length of his reign, by his conquests, legislation and legendary stature, he also profoundly marked the history of Western Europe."
  29. Evolution on the family in Europe page 42 out of 82
  30. "Dominicantes 2009" (in Polish). ISKK. 2010. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
  31. Jewish population figures may be unreliable. These estimates are taken from: Sergio DellaPergola. "World Jewish Population (2002)". American Jewish Year Book. The Jewish Agency for Israel. Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  32. EUMC (December 2006). "Anti-Semitism Summary overview of the situation in the European Union" (PDF). EUMC. Retrieved 2007-05-04.
  33. Miller, Tracy, ed. (October 2009). Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population (PDF). Pew Research Center. pp. 31–32. Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  34. "Ian Birrell: We have nothing to fear from our Muslim citizens". 11 December 2012.
  35. "Muslims in Europe: Country guide". BBC News. 23 December 2005.
  36. "Muslims in Europe: Country guide". BBC News. 23 December 2005. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
  37. 1 2 "Muslims in the European Union" (PDF). EU FRA. 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
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