Controversy overshadowed events this month when European Union officials invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from 13 member states and Russia to a meeting on economic governance. Most of the Jewish leaders invited refused to attend, saying they considered some of the Muslim organisations taking part to be radical and anti-Semitic. The Universal Society of Hinduism issued a statement complaining it had not been invited and declaring: “It was clearly an insult.” (Photo: European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering (2nd L), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (C) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (2nd R) address media in Brussels 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)
A spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who initiated the annual gathering with religious leaders five years ago, said the reason no Hindu representatives were invited was largely to keep the meeting focused. “This meeting also has to be sort of conclusive and lead to real debate — it’s not that we can invite 100 or 1,000 persons to have a huge conference on these issues,” the spokesman said.
The 20 high-level participants in the end included four representatives of Islam, a single Jewish organisation which did not join the boycott, and 13 Christian groups.
The controversy deflected attention from the particularly timely subject of ethical values and the global economic crisis. ‘Our society is bearing the full brunt of the consequences of the turbulence that has affected our financial system in the last few months, and the resulting economic crisis; these affect not only markets and investors, but also all of our fellow citizens on a daily basis,” Barroso said.
“In fact, as the crisis progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that the time has come to reconcile economic governance with the fundamental ethical values on which the European project has been based for the last 50 years.”