Sunday

17th Nov 2019

MEPs rage at choice of religious visits to the parliament

The visit of an Islamic cleric to the European Parliament has sparked outrage among MEPs questioning the presence of religious figures in the strictly political forum, as well as the complete absence of women on the guest list for future debates on religion in the EU.

Syria's grand mufti, the country's top religious authority, Sheik Ahmad Bader Hassoun, on Tuesday (14 January) was the first of a series of religious and state leaders to address MEPs in the context of the newly launched "European Year of Intercultural Dialogue".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The aim of the programme is to create closer links between European cultures, languages, ethnic groups and religions.

In his speech, the Syrian cleric rejected the notion of a clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic world, saying the real clash was between "culture and ignorance, terrorism and backwardness".

"Intercultural dialogue should be open and open-ended and based on mutual respect," Mr Hassoun said.

Speaking directly to journalists, the sheik accused the media of being responsible for unleashing a conflict over Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed two years ago. He said he disapproved of the drawings and condemned what he called disrespect for any sacred personality, "be it the Prophet Mohammed or Buddha".

"We have to respect the various cultures and not abuse the freedom of expression," the cleric said.

EP President Hans-Gert Pottering described the mufti as an advocate of an open and free society, and called for his help in building cultural bridges across the Mediterranean Sea.

But where are the women?

The European Parliament's draft guest list of speakers to the debates on religion, put together by the leaders of the seven political groups represented in the house, has caused outrage among MEPs, as not a single woman is to be found on the list.

So far, the list contains major religious figures such as pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama and British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

The EP is also expected to invite the current president of the African Union, John Kufuor, UN Secretary General Ban Ki -Moon, Israeli President Shimon Perez and the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld asked why in approving the list as part of the Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the group leaders had interpreted this exclusively as being an "inter-religious monologue".

"Could the list not be widened to include women and non-religious representatives?" Ms in 't Veld asked.

Reasoning along the same line, Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter told Euobserver: "It is absolutely scandalous that the European Parliament invites eight old men to discuss these topics, and not a single woman".

Other MEPs objected to bringing in religious leaders into European politics at all.

The parliament's "Party Working Group on the Separation of Religion and Politics" in a letter to Hans-Gert Pottering last year wrote: "It is unbecoming for any of the EU institutions to provide an exclusive platform to any particular grouping, including religions, in particular as the majority of European citizens are not religious or no longer practice their religion."

"Thus millions of individual citizens do not have a voice in the dialogue," the letter concluded.

Christians around Europe are increasingly led in worship by female priests, pastors and bishops, and according to a recent Eurobarometer survey, some 48 percent of European citizens claim to be non-confessional.

Replying to the criticism, the parliament's president, Hans-Gert Pottering, pointed out that the list of speakers had been approved by a majority of the Conference of Presidents, but that it was not final.

"With goodwill, the EP will be able to produce as balanced a list as possible", he said.

Exclusive

France unveils new model EU enlargement

Western Balkan countries should become EU members via a new, step-by-step process, France has said in a detailed proposal seen by EUobserver.

Agenda

Key moments for new commission This WEEK

MEPs will decide on Monday if they want the Hungarian commissioner-designate to come back for a second hearing, as commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen hopes to finally take office on 1 December.

EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner

The European Commission has started an infringement proceeding against the United Kingdom for failing to nominate a commissioner-candidate. The new commission, which wants to launch on 1 December, first requires a commissioner from each of the 28 EU states.

Opinion

Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room

Over the years, both real and perceived levels of corruption in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia have remained high. The necessary reforms in those countries, to put it mildly, are not yet effectively carried out.

Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner

The answers of Romanian's new commissioner-designate for transport, Adina-Ioana Vălean, did not manage to convince MEPs from the Greens group, who will ask her additional questions concerning environment and consumer rights.

EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors

A two-year scheme to send asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states fell short of its potential, say EU auditors. Some 35,000 were helped - but auditors say 445,000 in Greece alone could have also potentially benefited.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election

Podcast

Cultural Battlefield

Marta Keil knows firsthand the pressure on culture from Poland's ruling Law and Justice party. Her overview begins at the Polski theatre in the city of Wrocław, and describes an epic clash as the Polish museum sector is steadily hollowed-out.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. France unveils new model EU enlargement
  2. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  3. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  4. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  5. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  6. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  7. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  8. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us