, Vatican City, Vatican City State, Mar 24 – European Union leaders will receive guidance from Pope Francis Friday, on the eve of the troubled bloc’s 60th anniversary celebrations in Rome.
On past form, the Argentine pontiff is unlikely to pull his punches in a Friday evening audience with 27 heads of state or government tasked with charting a “common future” for a union soon to lose Britain from its ranks.
Francis has made it clear he believes that the EU’s future should include a much greater emphasis on combatting social injustice than there has been in six decades of integration driven primarily by trade liberalisation and monetary union.
Today’s Europe needs to adopt “new, more inclusive and equitable economic models, aimed not at serving the few, but at benefiting ordinary people and society as a whole,” he said in a speech last year.
Some EU governments and also a significant bloc in the European Parliament agree with him.
But there is no consensus among the 27 member states on this or almost any other issue to do with the bloc’s next steps.
The future, too, is clouded by the advances of far-right and populist parties — a trend the pope has highlighted as a danger on both sides of the Atlantic.
– Migrant crisis –
“Crises provoke fear, alarm,” he said in a January interview, recalling that the “obvious example of European populism” was Germany in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler seized power.
Francis’s most senior lieutenant, Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, said this week that populism was a “sign of a profound malaise felt by many people in Europe”.
This, he said, was based on genuine concerns about migration and the economic crisis to which the EU had to respond with concrete action.
Among the questions facing the EU is whether it should adopt a two-speed model, allowing some countries to deepen cooperation and pool sovereignty in various areas faster than others?
Is it time the EU finally realised the ambition of having some kind of military capacity?
Does the euro need to be underpinned by a banking union and greater fiscal harmonisation?
These issues form the backdrop to Saturday’s anniversary summit, at which both Poland and Greece have threatened to block the final statement.
However, they are not the most pressing concerns as Francis sees it.
The 80-year-old pontiff reiterated again this week that Europe is currently confronted with its biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
And it seems inevitable that he will remind the leaders of his view that they have a responsibility to address it, with compassion, as he did at the European Parliament in November 2014.
– ‘Dare to change’ –
“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” he told an audience of EU big-wigs, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, last year.
In that speech, delivered as he accepted the EU’s Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European unification, Francis implored today’s leaders to learn from the bloc’s founding fathers.
In the aftermath of war, they had inspired because they had “dared to change radically the models” that led to conflict.
Officially, the Vatican has always supported the idea of European integration, despite disappointment over repeated failures to enshrine an explicit commitment to Christian values in the bloc’s founding treaties.
“The celebrations (this weekend) remind us that it is still possible today to work together because that which unites us is stronger than that which divides us,” Parolin said.
“The vision of the founding fathers was rooted in the cultural, religious, judicial, political and human heritage of Europe, built over centuries. That is why Rome was chosen for the signature of the treaties. It is the symbol of this shared heritage in which Christianity was certainly a fundamental component.
“Today we have to rethink the EU along these lines, more a community on a journey than a static, bureaucratic entity.”