(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday, 25 November, will board an Alitalia Airbus taking him on his 5th Apostolic journey outside Italy.
During his half-day visit to the heart of Europe, he is scheduled to visit the European Parliament (EP) and the Council of Europe (CoE) where he will address members and exchange views with their leaders.
The first rendez-vous is with the EP, the only directly-elected European Union body and one of the largest democratic assemblies in the world.
Its 751 Members are there to represent the EU's 500 million citizens. They are elected once every five years by voters from across the 28 Member States.
The EP’s assembly represents all European citizens, and the Parliament acts as a co-legislator for nearly all EU law. Together with the Council, the Parliament adopts or amends proposals from the Commission. Parliament also supervises the work of the Commission and adopts the European Union's budget.
Beyond these official powers, the Parliament also works closely with national parliaments of EU countries.
The President of the EP is Martin Schulz, elected recently for his second term in office. Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke with him recently when he was in Rome to meet briefly with Pope Francis in the run-up to the journey. She asked him to elaborate on the meaning of the visit within the current European socio-political context.
Listen to the interview:
President Schulz speaks of the unanimous round of applause he received when he told European Parliament members that Pope Francis had accepted his invitation to address the Assembly.
He is addressing a chamber where not everyone is Catholic or even Christian “this is a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-national Parliament, living in times of lack of orientation”.
“I think that Pope Francis belongs to those people who are giving orientation to people – not only to Catholics – and it is a unique chance for us to listen to a man with perhaps, with the personality of the times – giving orientation” he said.
The last time the EP was addressed by a Pope was 26 years ago. Since then, the European socio-political situation has changed enormously. Amongst the top challenges Schultz identifies today is that of “the enormous social gap that exists between citizens and countries within the EU”.
He says “it is a gap that every day is becoming broader and that putting the cohesion of societies in danger”. And Schultz points out that as a whole, the “EU nevertheless remains the richest part of the world with a neighborhood in complete dissolution or incomplete crisis: so we have to manage two crises – on one hand this internal gap and on the other, the gap between us and those in the neighborhood” he says.
Schulz says the Parliament remains the place where MPs looked also beyond borders and towards the outside: “debates in the EP were strongly influenced by this view that we are not living alone on an island”.
However he says the times when European leaders could afford to ignore what was happening outside of our borders are past, pointing to the crises in Syria and the Middle East as events that deeply affect us all.
“I think the Pope follows also the debates inside the EP and is well aware of developments”. Schulz says he is obviously waiting to hear which issues he will choose to shine the spotlight upon, but he says that just recently he read a speech by Cardinal Marx (who is part of the Vatican Delegation for the visit), and pointing out that he could almost have written it himself for what it contains, he says it highlights an issue that touches him deeply: “this division between the European Union level, which is the economic level, the profit level, the cold anonymous power not caring about the individual fate of citizens; and on the other hand the national state, the protecting power in the social welfare system for individuals”. Schulz expresses his firm belief that this continued “ repetition of duties on the money-driven single market on the one hand is ‘bad’, while the national welfare state is ‘good’ leads to the debate: ‘Europe is bad, national is good’ in a time when we know that no single country will economically and politically survive in a worldwide competition alone, not even a strong country like Germany” he says.
“We need the European Union” says Schulz pointing to this contradiction as dangerous. “It is a contradiction that is not coming from Brussels, it is coming from the national capitals and therefore – he says - we must rebalance the duties: it is a common duty to be economically effective and it is a common duty to protect citizens socially”.
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