Pope tells Croatians EU too bureaucratic, sometimes ignores local cultures
Pope Benedict criticized the European Union’s bureaucracy on Saturday as overly centralised and rationalistic, saying it sometimes neglected historical differences and national cultures. He made the comments as he started a lightning trip to Croatia, which is bidding to become an EU member and is expected to join the bloc in 2013.
“Croatia’s entry into Europe is logical, right and necessary,” the pope told reporters aboard the plane from Rome. But he also said he could understand how some people in a small country like Croatia, whose entire population of some 4.4 million people is little more than that of some major European cities, would be wary of joining a big bloc. Some 50 percent of Croatians support EU entry, while some 30 percent oppose it and 20 percent are still undecided, according to recent opinion polls.
Benedict said he could understand a “certain scepticism” when a small country like Croatia enters an alredy constituted bloc like the EU. “There is almost a fear of a centralised bureaucracy that is too strong, of a rationalistic culture that does not take into sufficient consideration the richness and diversity of history,” he said.
He also criticised what he called an “abstract rationalism” in the EU bureaucracy that did not give sufficient attention to cultural diversity. Croatia is some 90 percent Catholic and the Vatican is keen to have another predominantly Catholic country in the bloc as it grows in order to defend the continent’s Christian roots and values.
Benedict is spending 36 hours in Zagreb to encourage the local Church in the most Catholic of Balkan countries 20 years after independence and 16 years after the end of the Balkan wars.
Speaking at the airport after a welcome address by President Ivo Josipovic, he stressed one of the major themes of his papacy — that the old continent should never forget or sideline its Christian roots in the face of an increasingly secular society. He spoke of a need to promote “the fundamental moral values hat underpin social living and the identity of the old Continent” in a world marked by increasing secularism. One of Croatia’s missions, he said at the airport, would be to “help to steer the European Union towards a fuller appreciation of those spiritual and cultural treasures”.
From the airport the pope went to a private meeting with the president. On Saturday evening, he was due to address academic and cultural leaders and hold a prayer vigil with young people. On Sunday he will pray at the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was accused of collaborating with the Nazi-allied rulers during World War II. The communists sentenced him to 16 years in confinement after the war. The late Pope John Paul beatified Stepinac in 1998, putting him one step away from sainthood.