Regional ECPM Conference North-East Europe, Vilnius, 15 & 16 June 2007

Secretary General Ms. Merja Eräpolku The Finnish Christian-Democratic Parliamentary Group

“What are the distinct features of Christian-democracy?”

Lecture 15.6.2007

Christian Democracy: the third road in politics

In different countries, the CD parties have risen from the active work of citizens - not from an external ideological structure like for example the Socialist parties have. That is why they are all very different in their starting point, focus and ways of working.

In each country, the religious basic tone is reflected in the general political behavior and also in the CD party and its ways of working. For example in the Central Europe their thinking has been characterized by the teachings of the Catholic Church. In the Nordic countries, the basis has been Protestantism.

The Christian Democratic parties have sometimes been characterized as moderate conservative parties. It is correct, however, to emphasize their own ideological background and originality.

In this context, the focus is on the Christian values as the basis of the ideology, as well as progressive social thinking compared to the political conservatism. The conservatives have also tried to refer to religion, but only when it helps their other goals, not in substantially defining their policies.

Religious inspiration, Christian view of man and social focus are the things that most clearly set Christian Democrats apart from other ideologies.

The development of the movement in Europe

One of the crucial starting points of the European Christian Democracy is Pope's “Rerum novarum” from 1891 (eighteen ninety one), which is the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. It urged people to take social responsibility of the weakest groups in society and presented the need for a third alternative between Socialism and Capitalism, so called third road in politics.

In Central Europe the predecessors of the current CD Parties were clearly denominational parties, which sprung out of a conflict between the church and the state. Through a liberal development, the state had in many ways become the opponent of the church. The Parties came out of religious activity and they were socially heterogeneous and not based on social class.

The rise of the CD parties in Europe started after World War II (two) as a counter reaction to trampling of democracy and human value. In Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as Eastern Europe, the birth of the CD parties is usually connected to the fall of a dictator or a totalitarian system.

Under the threat of the Socialist revolution, large right-center rainbow governments were formed in Germany and Italy, among others. In them, both the Christian Democratic and the conservative forces were combined. These Parties have been very divided even internally.

After war time many CD parties wanted to underline their desire for consensus and their character that transcends social class.

In the Nordic countries, the Christian parties emerged relatively late, when the main part of the population had already chosen affiliation with other parties. This has made it more difficult to find a foothold. The support for the parties has been found among the Lutheran congregations and revival movements as well as among the activists of the free churches.

In Central Europe, many CD parties have had fairly right-wing tones, but in Latin America they have been associated closer to the left. In Nordic cooperation, the Christian Democrats are strongly connected with the center groups.

The Christian Democratic Ideology

Compared with the two great ideological mainstreams liberalism and socialism, Christian Democracy underlines community more than they do. Liberalism and socialism both represent a more impersonal and more distant type of community.

Freeing the individuals from the bond of traditional communities has been the goal of liberalism and in a way also of socialism. The primary political goal of the liberals has been freedom, the goal of socialists has been equality and that of the Christian Democrats has been solidarity.

Economic policy is central to the liberalists and the socialists. We focus much more on family policy and social and cultural policy.


As we all know, Christianity is not a political ideology, but Christian Democracy is. The word “Christian” refers to a conscious effort to further basic Christian values and to act based on them in political decision-making.

Positions need to be argued using general arguments so, that all people regardless of their world view can understand them.

Christian Democracy does not mean forcing people into the Christian faith or norms, rather it respects the rights of the individual and in this way the pluralistic society. Furthering spiritual life is not part of the mission of a political party; it is the mission of the church and congregations.

However, through political solutions, we want to cherish the operating possibilities of Christian churches and communities, and the transfer of Christian traditions according to the principles of freedom of religion.

As a political movement, we do not take a stand in the views on doctrine of Christian congregations or other religious groups.

Especially the Central European mainstream of CD parties is committed to the tradition that emphasizes natural morality. According to it, the individual knows what is right and wrong, or good and bad based on his or her reason, conscience and sense of justice. Faith adds nothing special.

The natural moral law has allowed the thought that also religiously uncommitted persons can be Christian Democratic actors. The view has been, that developing the society to be more respecting of human value and human rights, justice and more caring of the weak is all a realization of Christianity in the society. In this way a religiously uncommitted person who is just and has a social conscience can be a Christian Democrat.


The word “Democracy” refers to the desire to further democracy and a society where citizens' activism is appreciated. In each issue, the Christian Democrats seek cooperation with groups that have similar goals.

Christian Democracy opposes all forms of totalitarianism and centralization of power away from ordinary people. The division of power into legislative, executive and judicial power, together with a functioning media prevents the centralization of power to individual decision-makers and groups.

Openness and transparency of political activity are necessary so that the citizens can evaluate their representatives, their methods and the content of the decisions. Use of public power needs to be as transparent as possible so that it can be safeguarded against abuse.

Emphasis on human values - personalism

The ideological differences between political parties are best seen by comparing their concept of man. Many political parties start from a humanistic view that stresses man’s development.

According to the Christian view, man is created by God into His image. Each person is fully valuable regardless of any of his or her characteristics. In addition to the psychological and physical dimension, man has also a spiritual dimension.

As an image of the Creator, man is also creative. This is a feature of Christian Democracy which has not been emphasized enough. Man is creative in his study of nature, in research and development in both sciences and arts. We should be advancing artistic creativity and scientific research so that man may flourish in his or her best capabilities.

Christianity is not against arts or science. However, respect and protection of life need to be a clear principle also when defining the limits of scientific research.

Human value needs to be respected ever since conception throughout life until man's natural death. There is at present a world wide discussion over stem cell research, how to use embryos, and even at the other end politicians are discussing euthanasia.

Man has the freedom to choose between right and wrong. The ability for good as well as evil is central characteristics in the nature of man. Christian Democracy recognizes man's imperfection and also the limits of political possibilities.

The view of man, which the Christian Democracy calls personalism, underlines that man is a unique individual but also an entity in a community. The basic cell of society is the family, whose wellbeing or suffering influences the entire society. The significance of marriage and family is a deeply ideological issue, not only a political question.

Christian Democracy emphasizes the sense of duty and responsibility for one’s neighbor and community. Responsibility is an integral part of individual freedom. The freedoms we enjoy as individuals need to be granted to others as well.

Emphasis on human rights - subsidiarity

The second key concept of Christian Democracy is the principle of subsidiarity, which has been developed as a theory on modern democratic governance.

Subsidiarity is a principle according to which the higher unit does not take action when the lower unit is able to handle the issue at least in a satisfactory manner. However, the higher unit needs to give support to the lower one whenever it is needed.

The responsibility for furthering common good needs to be divided, finding a balance between the public sector, citizens' activism and individuals. Each carries the area that best suits its ability to take responsibility.

Due to the idea of subsidiarity, Christian Democracy underlines the significance of near-by communities but also the role of the international community above the state.

European Union should not take over tasks which the member states are capable of handling better. The states are not to take over tasks which the municipalities should manage and the municipalities are not to interfere in tasks belonging to the families.

This has been the basis of the criticism towards EU in the Finnish CD party. One has to be in guard that EU follows this principle in practice, since it also has accepted in theory the principle of subsidiarity. EU is not to become a tool of a handful of major nations to advance their own interests, but it is to support the weakest members so that they may take care of their responsibilities. Each member state is to be respected on an equal manner.

Social security - solidarity

To the Christian Democrats, solidarity means equal right to wellbeing. The concept of solidarity has primarily referred to the attempt to create an understanding between the conflicting goals of different classes in the society and different groups.

A positive attitude towards foreigners and immigrants is a characteristic of Christian Democracy. Biblical reference is to take good care of the poor and helpless in the society: the orphans, the widows and the immigrants.

Christian Democracy does not attempt to further the interest of any single group at the expense of others, but tries to fit together the interests of different groups in as just and functional way as possible while defending the weakest citizens. The responsibility for the weakest refers to generations, groups of citizens as well as to our international neighbors, the underdeveloped societies in the world.

Social Market Economy

Christian Democracy has offered the concept of Social Market Economy to describe an economic system. A social safety net attempts to remedy the bad effects of market economy.

Demand for an ecological dimension has been added to it, because it is not right to reach economic wellbeing at the expense of nature and the environment.

Rights of ownership are less important to the Christian Democrats than the clearly right wing political groups. In our thinking private ownership as a basis of social security has been replaced partly by public services, but it is an important part of the independence of an individual or a family.

One God-given task is to take care of the Creation. Protection of the beautifully created nature has been more emphasized by the CD parties in Norway and Sweden than in Finland - to our shame I have to confess. This may be the reason why green parties in Norway and Sweden have had less space to monopolize to themselves the so-called green issues.

The pollution of nature, the climate change and the sorry state of the Baltic Sea, et cetera, challenge us to put more emphasis on this feature of Christian Democracy.

The nature is not to be destroyed by the profit-making. Market economies should be a servant, not a boss. This applies both to the value of human beings and to the value of our environment.

Future possibilities of Christian Democracy

The CD parties are not typical general political parties regardless of their wide support base and versatile agenda. Religion as a basis of a political principle works as a kind of magnet: some are pulled by it, others are pushed away. If the party makes an effort to gain more non-religious supporters, its chances of keeping the religious supporters are weakened.

In a secular society, one of the crucial challenges of a party formed on a religious base is to stay faithful to its values based on Christianity and thus keeping the religious supporters, but on the other hand to make choices through which ever more voters are reached in addition to the denominational supporters.

Many CD parties have found a solution to this problem by fading out the religious framework and putting emphasis on the political profile. This line of action presents the danger of obscuring the ideological focus and profile.

In my opinion, the possibilities of the Christian Democratic movement of keeping its position as a unique political force largely depend on the extent the movement is able to present its message in the changing society and also to what extent are the voters concerned of preserving the Christian value base in Europe.

Simple individualism and liberalism do not work if community spirit, and the value base defined through good and evil, right and wrong have largely disappeared.

The most important task of Christian Democracy is to offer an alternative, which accepts the pluralistic society but is ethically committed and strong.

In the post-war world, the Christian Democracy wanted to create a way between the capitalist and the socialist views of society.

Is Christian Democracy today a movement that succeeds in cutting an ideologically clear third way between the libertarian and the authoritarian views that are each others opposites in the conflict zone of new policy? A way in which belief in the truth and the existence of moral right and wrong is cherished.

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Demker, Marie (1998): Religion och Politik. Den europeiska kristdemokratins dilemma. SNS Förlag. Stockholm.
Hanley, David (toim.) (1994): Christian Democracy in Europe: A Comparative Perspective. Pinter. Lontoo.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. (1996): The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe. Cornell University Press. Lontoo.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. (1998): "From Pulpit to Party. Party Formation and the Christian Democratic Phenomenon." Comparative Politics, Vol 30: 293 312. Chigago.
van Kersbergen, Kees (1995): Social Capitalism. A Study of Christian Democracy and the Welfare State. Routledge. London.