Pope Francis challenges EU. Would any politician be as radical?

Not one of the political parties which will try to seduce us when the next election is called will present a manifesto as radical, as inspiring, as relevant or as human-centred as the speech made by Pope Francis to the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday.

The institution of the Catholic Church may have lost influence in this society but the idealism, the decency and the unflinchingly honest appraisal of how the EU has diluted its founding ambitions to the great disadvantage of tens of millions of people will resonate right across Europe, especially with those feeling the brunt of the economic measures imposed to try to revive the system that betrayed millions upon millions of workers, young people and pensioners.

It is more than questionable too whether our two main, traditionally at least, political parties are prepared to modify their own barely distinguishable ambitions to, as the Pontiff urged, “keep democracy alive” and prevent the parliamentary fragmentation that makes effective government, and subsequently a decent society, all but impossible.

In the first visit by a pope to the parliament in more than quarter of a century Pope Francis pointed to the growing democratic deficit which has almost reached the point where the legitimacy of the EU’s institutions comes into question. The recently revealed communications between this country’s government and the European Central Bank are just one example of this anti-democratic power shift.

The Pope emphasised the need to keep “the dignity of the person” at the heart of the EU and that it was vital to develop a culture of human rights which “links the individual ... to that of the common good”. He stressed that it was time to promote policies which would confront unemployment, “above all there is a need to restore dignity to labour by ensuring proper working conditions”. How that plea for basic dignity, for a living wage will be felt by the millions upon millions of Europe’s working poor. And what a challenge that is for our governments, our economies and for employers focussed exclusively on profits to resolve this unsustainable reality.

Touching on one of the issues of the day, the second world leader to do so within in a week, Pope Francis urged the EU to adopt “a united response” to migration. In one of the most challenging sections of his speech he said “we cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery. The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance. The absence of mutual support within the EU runs the risk of ... solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour”.

Pope Francis has offered a challenge to our politics , our societies and each one of us that transcends religion. He has, by doing no more than pointing out what we already know is wrong in our world, thrown down the gauntlet to a system that barely survived economic collapse, and unless it effectively confronts the issues he raised yesterday will eventually face a far, far greater challenge to its existence. What a better world it might be if our politicians were as radical.


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