Monday, November 01, 2004

Mixed blessings from world leaders

It seems that Polish prime minister Marek Belka made the most of the opportunity afforded by the constitution signing ceremony in Rome and took a little diversion into the Vatican to have a chat with the Pope on Saturday.

According to the Italian government news agency, AGI, Pope John Paul II affirmed his continued trust in Europe's future "despite the constitution lacking a specific reference to the member states’ Christian roots, everlasting values dictated by the Gospel, which inspired and will inspire all those who take on the responsibility of governing our continent."

Nevertheless, Pope is said to be convinced that the EU, which he defined "a community of free nations", will "do its best to avoid taking their spiritual heritage away, but will preserve it as a uniting value". However, that did not stop him stating that it was "not possible to have a long-lasting unity without the rich roots of Christianity". "Europe will not be truly united unless it blends in spirituality", he added. He wanted Europe "to breathe with both lungs: the western and eastern ones".

In a stronger than normal voice, he added, "I hope that in the years to come Christians will continue to bring to all circles of European institutions the gospel message that is the guarantee of peace and collaboration between all citizens in the shared pursuit of common good."

His comments are seen as double-edge, reflecting in part Vatican disappointment that Italy's nominee, Rocco Buttiglione, had to step down from the commission "because of his religious beliefs". They are also causing some nervousness amongst secular politicians, aware of the risk of offending Turkey, which the Pope seems to be ignoring.

Buttiglione, meanwhile, in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, described himself as "an innocent victim" of the parliament and observed that being anti-Christian had become the only acceptable prejudice in Europe. "I sparked a battle, that has only just started and will continue," he said. "Europe is scared of itself, of opening a discussion about what it really is ... Instead it swings between two states which cannot identify it: its economy and political correctness."

Meanwhile, that other great world leader, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hailed the signing of the constitution as "a major milestone" in EU history. "This important and positive step opens new horizons for the European Union in the 21st century and provides a unique opportunity to preserve and strengthen democracy, peace and prosperity," a spokesman for Annan said in a statement issued on Friday,

"The Secretary-General expresses the wish that the European Constitution will also offer new opportunities to strengthen the important co-operation established between the United Nations and the European Union in the furtherance of the goals and principles of the United Nations Charter," the statement added.

Leaders of the EU member states may wish to distance themselves from that statement some time in the future when, as is widely expected, Annan is found to have had his fingers firmly embedded in the till over the Iraqi oil for food scandal. Then, as with the Pope, his support might prove to be a mixed blessing.

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