Thursday

21st Sep 2017

New parliament chair drops call for God in EU constitution

The new president of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering has promised to act as a "fair and objective" president of the whole assembly, indicating that despite his personal convictions, he would no longer press for a reference to God in any revised EU constitution.

Mr Poettering was elected to chair the bloc's legislature by a majority of 450 votes out of 715 MEPs voting in the first round of Tuesday's (16 January) election.

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  • Christianity featured strongly during the constitution debate (Photo: European Commission)

Despite three other candidates running for the presidency - with Greens co-chairman Monica Frassoni receiving 145 votes, leftist GUE/NGL president Francis Wurtz 48 votes and Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde 46 votes - most group leaders said they believe Mr Poettering will manage to act as a neutral president of all members.

Following the vote, the German deputy said one of his key priorities would be to boost a "dialogue between cultures", particularly between Christian and Muslim religions.

At the same time, he stressed that he wants the parliament to be actively involved in a March declaration to mark the EU's 50th birthday and make sure the document mentions not only the commitment to the bloc's reforms but also its values.

However, when asked by journalists if he would press for a reference to God and Christianity to be introduced in a new version of the EU constitution, he said "as a president, I can't do it."

"As chairman of the EPP-ED [centre-right] group in the European Parliament, I favoured the mentioning of Christian values in a constitution but now I have to represent a majority position," he said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel last year also mooted the possibility of re-introducing the idea in the re-drafted document, saying after her August visit to the Pope Benedict XVI "we need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way."

Mr Poettering himself wants to meet both the Pope and other religious leaders during his presidency of the EU legislature as part of his initiative to enhance dialogue between cultures.

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Armed Spanish police have arrested Catalan officials and seized ballots for an independence referendum, prompting appeals for EU help.

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The Commission president wants his position to be merged with the presidency of the European Council, and for all EU states to be in the eurozone and Schengen by 2019, post-Brexit.

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