EP/RELIGION/CIVIL SOCIETY: MEPS criticise commission for favouring dialogue with catholic church

Agence Europe

Strasbourg, 06/09/2005 (Agence Europe) - Earlier this year the European Commission held a meeting with church representatives and will be organising a second such meeting in the autumn with representatives of civil society and humanist organisations, explained European Commissioner Jacques Barrot at the European Parliament' plenary on Monday evening, responding to criticisms by various MEPs that the Commission favoured the Catholic Church in the consultations it had held with churches and non-confessional organisations. Such dialogue is foreseen in declaration 11 annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty and the Commission sees it as standard practice in relations with stakeholders of civil society, explained Barrot, adding that the European Constitution set out how this was to be organised.

Although the Constitution has not come into force, the Commission is planning to pursue this practice of equal treatment of all interlocutors, he added, arguing that this did not mean that all interlocutors had to be systematically present at all meetings - it would depend what topics were being discussed. Various MEPs welcomed the Commission's initiative, but others, like the President of the ALDE group, Graham Watson, highlighted the necessary separation between Church and State. Others criticised the Commission for lack of transparency, with British Labour MEP Michael Cashman saying there should be lists of participants and minutes of the meetings available and the meetings had to take place in public. He was supported in this by Sophia in't Veld (ALDE, Netherlands), who said there should be dialogue but not simply with people handpicked by President Barroso who, unlike President Prodi, discriminates against humanist organisations. More virulent in her criticisms, Belgian Socialist MEP Veronique de Keyser said she was shocked by the lack of concern with which the European Commission 'forgot' to invite the European Humanist Federation, inviting instead the Scientologists. She also criticised EU funding of participants at the World Youth Day in Cologne with the Pope, describing it as Pope John-Paul II's final miracle, turning rejection of such funding by the European Parliament into a 'yes': We are told the EU did not pay for the participants' Communion wafers, only for their milk, she said, - does that mean the EU can be milked by the Vatican? Italian Radical MEP Marco Pannella also slammed 'Vatican Europe', quoting French prime minister Emile Combes a hundred years ago saying that after occupying the Church, the Vatican now wants to occupy states. Jacques Barrot tried to calm nerves by saying yes to separation between Church and State, in respect, adding that the problem of sects had to be tackled.