Pope Francis attacks EU over treatment of immigrants
The Guardian, By Ian Traynor
‘We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard,’ pontiff tells the European parliament.
The European Union has aged and grown tired, forfeiting ideas and ideals in favour of pen-pushing, Pope Francis has complained in the first papal address to the European parliament in quarter of a century.
The first non-European pontiff in 1,200 years delivered a sombre and thoughtful, if less than stirring, message to more than 700 MEPs gathered in the parliament’s hemicycle in Strasbourg on France’s border with Germany. He berated Europe for its treatment of immigrants, for the hordes of young unemployed, for its treatment of older people and for its failure to see clearly.
In a speech devoted to the centrality of human dignity, Francis, 77, declared that the EU had lost its bearings. It had become “elderly and haggard”, hostage to a uniform economic model that undermined democracy while the centrality of human rights was becoming confused with and supplanted by individualistic narcissism.
The rest of the world viewed Europe with “aloofness, mistrust and suspicion”, the pontiff said.
The last pope to address the European parliament was John Paul II 26 years ago as Europe stood on the brink of seismic change, with communism collapsing the following year and ending the continent’s division into two hostile blocs.
John Paul called the EU a “beacon of civilisation”. The contrast on Tuesday was striking.
“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard,” Pope Francis said, in reference to the thousands of migrants who drown every year as they seek to reach southern Europe from north Africa and the Middle East.
The EU had to deal with the problem of immigration by drafting laws that protected both EU citizens and the rights of migrants. Instead, it was pursuing “policies of self-interest” that only fed the conflicts the migrants were fleeing.
“Unity does not mean uniformity,” said Francis, as he decried “uniform systems of economic power in the service of unseen empires”.
In keeping with his seemingly modest lifestyle, the Argentina-born pontiff arrived at the Strasbourg parliament in what looked like an ordinary four-seater grey Peugeot to large crowds of well-wishers.
The parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, a German social democrat and former bookseller, presented him with a book as a gift, a specially bound edition in Spanish of the memoirs of Jean Monnet, one of the EU’s founders.
As the pope departed the parliament after his 36-minute speech and a two-minute standing ovation, teenagers yelled “ciao”. He delivered his speech in Italian, and spoke in German, French, and English with EU dignitaries without translators present.
In his 20 months in the Vatican, the Strasbourg visit was only Francis’s second trip in Europe outside Italy after he went to Albania, one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries.
“We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe that is no longer fertile and vibrant,” he told the assembled legislators. “The great ideas that once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.”