Francis popes the EU bubble
Most official papal visits follow the same, tired formula. The pope swans in, armed with the grace of God and a host of heavenly security heavies; he prays piously for an end to persecution; and he stops at some cathedral or shrine to remind us to remember Our Lord every now and then in the drudgery of our busy, profane existences.
But His Holiness’s most recent drop-in to the European Commission was a different story. Breaking the record for the shortest formal papal address ever to a European assembly, Pope Francis packed his 34-minute speech with a takedown of the EU, a damning appraisal of Europe’s fetishisation of red tape, and a scathing rant about Europe’s decline from chief protagonist to ‘tired grandmother’ on the world stage.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, squirmed in his seat as Francis asked the European elite why it had chosen to commit continental suicide by driving Europe into an intellectual impasse where cultural relativism and austerity-mania have become the only games in town. His Holiness was clearly peeved by the idea that the EU was useful to anyone, European or otherwise. For its citizens, the EU is seen as ‘aloof, if not positively harmful’, he warned. Francis fumed that people don’t take kindly to their jobs and laws being subject to the whims of a faceless, centralised council of unelected experts.
The problem, in Francis’s eyes, is that Europe has failed to keep pace with its more sprightly, optimistic rivals. As the EU’s reach has expanded, the world has become increasingly interconnected and global – and thus less ‘Eurocentric’. For Francis, the problem runs deeper than how the EU elite has handled certain situations – the problem lies with the European project itself. Europe is ‘elderly and haggard’, His Holiness diagnosed, and is increasingly incapable of offering solutions to international problems.
There’s a delicious irony, of course, in the head of the Roman Catholic Church politely, but forthrightly, telling the EU that it looks miserably tired and decrepit. But, boy, did it need saying. It was a vital and eloquent denunciation of the pencil-pusher politics of the EU, of a political elite obsessing over pedantic protocols at the expense of genuine ideological debate. The EU project is a symptom of the closing of Europe’s political imagination. It’s a shame that it took an elderly clergyman in a frock to spell it out for us.
Chris Lynch is a spiked intern.