Does Europe’s new prez really think it’s a Christian club?
Europe’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is little known outside his native Belgium. One of the few background facts about him circulating since his election is his opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union. The operative quote, expressed in a 2004 speech when he was an opposition deputy in the Belgian parliament, is:
“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past . . . The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.”
(Photo: Herman Van Pompuy, 19 Nov 2009/Sebastien Pirlet)
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said something quite similar In an interview with Le Figaro, also in 2004: “Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe,” he said, and joining it to Europe would be a mistake. Europe is united by its “culture which gives it a common identity. The roots which formed … this continent are those of Christianity.”
Both these comments were made in the context of a debate about mentioning Europe’s Christian heritage in the EU constitution planned at the time. Some countries, most notably France, opposed any explicit mention of the traditional majority faith on the continent. The Vatican’s reaction was: “The Holy See cannot but express its distress over the opposition of some governments to the explicit recognition of the Christian roots of Europe. It is a question of disregard of the historical evidence and of the Christian identity of European peoples.”
Van Rompuy, a Christian Democrat, is a believeing Catholic who has no problem saying so in public. He attended a Jesuit high school in Brussels and the Catholic University Leuven. Back in 1985, he wrote a book entitled Het christendom. Een moderne gedachte (Christendom, a modern idea), which is now out of print.
(Photo: Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict), 10 April 2004/Max Rossi)
Van Rompuy’s personal blog (mostly in Dutch and French, some English) has a whole section on religion and several commentaries, articles and speeches posted on the blog deal with religous and philosophical issues such as the Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate or a discussion about love with the agnostic French thinker Luc Ferry.
This has prompted several European bloggers and commenters to slam him as having “no sensitivity whatever to Europe’s newer cultural diversity” or being “a Vatican puppet.” One blogger asked if the EU now had “a devout Roman Catholic leading a secular European Empire?”
Are we heading for another debate about Europe’s Christian roots? Or is it one thing, as his aides argue, to express views when one is an opposition politician and another when one holds a high office?