Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Religious leaders and the EU take tentative first steps

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Top European Union officials held talks this week with religious leaders, part of a policy of holding consultations with religious groups that was enshrined in the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force last December. But not everyone supports the move.
 
More than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders — joined by a representative each from the Hindu and Sikh communities — met  the presidents of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council on Monday to discuss how to fight poverty and social exclusion.

It was the the sixth such consultation since 2005, but the first to take place in the context of the Lisbon treaty, the EU’s latest collective agreement.  Article 17 of the treaty commits the EU to maintaining “an open, transparent and regular dialogue with … churches and (non-confessional and philosophical) organisations”.

But opponents of the guidance say that because many Europeans are secular and an increasing number practise non-Christian religions, churches should not have special rights.

“Leaders need to respect the separation between church and state,” said Jean de Brueker, deputy secretary general of the European Humanist Federation, which advocates more secularism in Europe. De Brueker’s organisation says separate consultation agreements should be limited to elected officials and those with recognised special expertise.
   
Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said the EU was a secular organisation but spoke about the moral significance of the 27-country bloc, hinting at the need for spiritual and religious input. 
   
“The European Union has to be a union of values. That is our added value in the world. That is the soft power of Europe in the world,” he told reporters.
   
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Poland, who spent decades in the Vatican as private secretary to Pope John Paul II — who played a subtle but intimate role in late Soviet politics — has spoken in favour of Article 17.
   
“I believe there is a need for such consultations with churches so as not to make mistakes on moral or ethical issues,
for the benefit of societies,” Dziwisz told Reuters in December. “Let’s not forget that religion is also a great force that creates cultures and societies. It cannot be bypassed.”
   
The European Parliament will meet Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders on Sept. 30 to discuss how to implement Article 17, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said.

Life no paradise in EU’s outer regions

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The Caribbean island of St. Martin, a member of the European UnionTimes are hard in distant corners of the European Union, even when the sun is shining and the euro zone’s debt problems are thousands of miles away.

Leaders of nine regions on the edges of the EU are asking the rest of the 27-country bloc to pay more attention to their needs and shape investment policies better to their problems, exacerbated in some cases by the global economic crisis.

The quality of MEPs is sometimes strained

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I am not a Eurosceptic, but you do sometimes question whether the billions of euros European taxpayers’ dole out each year to the European Union — and specifically the European Parliament – is always money well spent.

Those doubts came freshly to mind on Tuesday during the presentation of the European Central Bank’s annual report to the parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Volcano spews up more criticism of EU

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- Ash and steam rise from an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland

Ash and steam rise from an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland

The Icelandic volcano that has caused havoc with European travel has also spewed up more criticism of the European Union.

A travel-affected European Parliament session on Tuesday turned into a forum for bashing the EU and other European authorities over the response to the crisis.

Head scratching over EU plans for EMF, helping Greece

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- IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn

IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn

It was no great surprise that the managing director of the International Monetary Fund looked perplexed when asked during a visit to Brussels to comment on proposals to create a European monetary fund.

 ”I would be very happy to comment if I knew what it was,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a committee in the European Parliament.

Can a European diplomatic service really work?

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As experiments in political unity go, Europe’s External Action Service takes some beating.

The budding diplomatic corps of the European Union, with a name that sounds like an off-shoot of Britain’s SAS, is supposed to represent the unified interests of the EU’s 27 member states to the rest of the world.

EU to tackle gender pay inequality

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By Sangeeta Shastry EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

Men are still paid more than women in Europe but the European Union is promising to narrow the gap.

The executive European Commission set out its plans to address the pay gap between men and women at a news conference to coincide with International Women’s Day, saying women were on average earning only 82 percent of male rates in the EU.

Brussels’ MEPs ready to duke it out with bankers

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Every new year brings resolutions, and the European Parliament is no exception.

Often derided as a multi-lingual talking shop, the institution is feeling newly invigorated by some fresh faces and by the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force late last year and gives the 736-member parliament more say in drafting laws and acting as a check on legislation.

Almost immediately, parliamentarians were letting their voice be heard, forcing Bulgaria to withdraw its nominee for the European Commission last month because she wasn’t seen to be up to the job. They also look ready to block an agreement between the EU and the United States on sharing data on bank transfers, and are really beginning to show their teeth when it comes to financial sector reform.

European Parliament’s theatre of politics

- The European Parliament in Strasbourg

The European Parliament in Strasbourg

Every five years, the European Parliament gets an opportunity to show its muscle as it quizzes candidates for the next European Commission, the powerful body that enforces EU laws.

But rather than a forensic examination of the 26 nominees – the sort of in-the-spotlight inquisition the U.S. Senate puts presidential appointees through — the European Parliament has a tendency just to go through the motions. 

EU holds hearings, but who’s listening?

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ashtonIn the United States, Senate hearings to confirm presidential appointments are a Big News Story, with scores of photographers, TV cameras and journalists cramming into the committee rooms to follow the event live.

The European Union — which has 200 million more people than the United States and is a larger trading bloc — has something similar, with hearings before the European Parliament to confirm nominees to the European Commission, the 27-person body that enforces laws across the EU.

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