Thursday

1st Oct 2020

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

EUobserved

Celebrate with us. EUobserver's 20 years of independent EU news

More and more people have come to understand that today's challenges can only be dealt with at the European level. That is why today, perhaps even more than 20 years ago, there is an urgent need for independent, European, journalism.

Column

A 'geopolitical' EU Commission. Great idea - but when?

Safeguarding Europe's position starts with recognising the unpleasant reality that Europe's power is waning. Behind the facade of European cooperation, national self-interest still predominates and that has never been any different.

Coronavirus

EU tries to avoid lockdowns as global death toll reaches 1m

Several member states are putting forward restrictive Covid-19-related measures to try to control the surge of numbers of coronavirus cases, trying to avoid a second lockdown. Meanwhile, the global death toll from the novel coronavirus has reached one million.

News in Brief

  1. Polish MEP defects to Greens from Socialists & Democrats
  2. Finally a federal government agreement in Belgium
  3. Auditor appeals for EU funds on child poverty
  4. British MPs get behind controversial Brexit bill
  5. France admits Covid-19 app low take-up
  6. UK sanctions Belarus leadership
  7. Poland introduces new Covid-19 rules but no lockdown
  8. Turkey reportedly downs Armenian fighter jet

Column

A 'geopolitical' EU Commission. Great idea - but when?

Safeguarding Europe's position starts with recognising the unpleasant reality that Europe's power is waning. Behind the facade of European cooperation, national self-interest still predominates and that has never been any different.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Celebrate with us. EUobserver's 20 years of independent EU news
  2. Ban on Catalan leader condemned as 'disproportionate'
  3. EU defends Jourova over Hungary's resignation demand
  4. A 'geopolitical' EU Commission. Great idea - but when?
  5. The EU's new rule of law report - pushing at an open door?
  6. EU tries to avoid lockdowns as global death toll reaches 1m
  7. Reports: Turkey sent Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan
  8. German presidency tries to end EU's rule-of-law battle

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us