(Pope Benedict XVI arrives in his "popemobile" in front of Zagreb's main cathedral June 4, 2011/Nikola Solic)

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.