UK

Pope Francis Slams EU's 'Opulence' And 'Aloofness' In Historic Parliament Speech

25/11/2014 11:45 GMT | Updated 26/11/2014 09:59 GMT

STRASBOURG -- Pope Francis has attacked the European Union's "opulent" and "aloof" leadership and institutions in an extraordinary speech to the Strasbourg parliament, the first from the pontiff in more than a quarter of a decade.

The historic address, which accused politicians of treating citizens not with "dignity and transcendence" but as "cogs in a machine", saw the Pope take the EU's handling of the economic crisis to task, saying it had forgotten how to talk about anything but economics and treat people as humans beings.

Speaking in Italian, he accused the continent of becoming irrelevant and "haggard". The world, the Pope says, has become "less and less Eurocentric".

pope francis

Pope Francis delivers a speech at the European Parliament

"Despite a larger and stronger Union, Europe seems to give the impression of being elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world that frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and, even at times, suspicion."

He called Europe a "barren grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant and as a result, the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, to be replaced by bureaucratic technicalities of institutions."

To cheers from both the Eurosceptic and left-wing members, the Pope railed against the "certain selfish lifestyles, an opulence that is no longer sustainable" and the "frequent indifference to the world around us, especially to the poorest of the poor."

"To our dismay we see technical and economic questions dominating the political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings. Men and women are reduced to cogs in a machine, items of consumption to be exploited.

"The result is that when human life is no longer useful to the machine, it is discarded without qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and the children who are killed in the womb. It is a great mistake when technology is allowed to take over, there is a confusion between ends and means. It's inevitable consequence of throwaway culture and uncontrolled consumerism."

Story continues below...

Pope At EU

Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron's nemesis, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, shifted uncomfortably in their seats throughout. Thanking the pontiff afterwards, Schulz said he gave him "great encouragement".

Schulz had invited the pope to Strasbourg during his audience with the pontiff in Rome, stressing he had invited him because of his growing influence on politics, rather than his religious leadership. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Francis did not intend his visit to be about doling out policy advice. "He is not coming as a statesman," Lombardi had warned, but much of Francis' speech focused on specific legislation that was needed, particularly protecting the rights of migrants, as well as preserving European individual cultures.

UK Independence Party MEP leader Nigel Farage called the speech "remarkable and encouraging -- he made it clear the modern European Union had gone badly wrong and the idea of a united European state wasn't even desirable"

"He made it clear that getting countries together in the 1950s who had been busy fighting each other was a good thing and a Christian thing and that behind the project there were some high-minded ideas. But equally he made it clear that it has gone badly wrong. I mean, for a Pope to describe the modern day European Union as being 'old, weary and infertile'"

"For those of us who have been saying 'You can be pro-European without being pro-European Union,' it was enormously encouraging. He said that people who are diverse can work together but don't have to have uniformity. He made it clear he thought uniformity in Europe was a very bad idea."

"It was not the sort of language Martin Schulz, the German Socialist president of the European Parliament, likes to hear. Perhaps Schulz now regrets inviting the Pope, I don't know."

But Ukip MEP David Coburn said he did not think the Pope had outed himself a Eurosceptic. "I don't think he came down on one side of the argument," he told HuffPost. "I do think he objected to the problems of money wasting, of too many bureaucrats. i personally want to stop that by getting Britain out of the European Union, but I don't want to put words like that in His Holiness' mouth."

Several of the Eurosceptics on the benches looked cheered by Pope Francis words, but several did not applaud at the end of his speech, perhaps in distaste for his remarks on migrants. "There needs to be a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery," he said.

Farage, whose party is fiercely anti-immigration, said he did himself not take issues with the Pope's plea for acceptance. "He made it very clear we should be addressing the causes of why so many people wish to cross the Mediterranean. Of course one of the primary reasons for that was our absolute stupidity in bombing Libya a few years ago."

It is a topic on which he is known to be passionate, one of his first acts as Pope was to visit the Italian island of Lampedusa, where many desperate migrants have drowned trying to reach.

"The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance," Francis told the parliament on Tuesday.

"The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions."

It was not a visit for niceties. His visit to Europe was to make a political and moral point, a gesture to a continent, the "old world" centre of Catholicism, that he has been accused of neglecting during his tenure - his only other visit to a European country was to Albania.

The Pope had arrived earlier not in the Pope-mobile, which had reputedly summarily rejected, but in a saloon car. Italian, Spanish and Polish EU staff were pushing to the front and he was greeted with whoops and cheers from the crowd as he stepped onto the red carpet.

The pontiff stood on a specially prepared stage for the briefest of photocalls with Schulz as the brass band played Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU anthem. He looked grim-faced, a man who was not here to make friends, only permitting a smile as he went back into his car, raising his hand in a wave to photographers. Inside, he shook hands with members, including UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Euthanasia and abortion were also controversial topics raised, with the Pope decrying the "children who are killed in the womb", to a surprising amount of cheers from members.

Dutch MEP Sophia in 't Veld, the vice chair of the Alliance for Liberals and Democracts group, said she was embarrassed to hear that "cynical" applause, especially as the Parliament prepares to honour Congo gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who treats victims of war rape. "There was much I disagreed with, and it is always a monologue, not a dialogue," she told HuffPost as MEPs left the chamber.

"If I had a chance to ask a question, I would ask him how he could possibly talk about preventing poverty at the same time as taking away women's rights over their own bodies. It is essential for economic growth that women can determine the size of their own families. What does he think will help end poverty in Africa - a miracle?"

The Pope used both euthanasia and abortion as examples of a"throwaway culture" he claimed was pervasive. "Dignity was the key word in the process of rebuilding after the Second World War. What dignity can there be when men and women are subject to discrimination.. when they don't have the food or resources they need for survival, or a job to confer dignity?"

Loneliness was the new "disease" of Europe, he said. "This is especially true of the old, abandoned to their fate, and the young who lack guidance. It is in the poor who live our cities, and in the lost gaze of migrants who come here seeking better future. This loneliness is made worse by economic crisis, which has had tragic consequences on society."

"In recent years it can be seen that as EU expanded, there has been a growing mistrust on the part of citizens to institutions they regard as aloof, laying down rules which disregard individual peoples' concerns, even being actually harmful," he added.

The trip is not exactly leisurely, Pope Francis arrived at Strasbourg airport and is set to depart a little over four hours later, back to Rome.

There is no lunch arranged, no mass or even a prayer meeting. He will not even see the inside of the town's famous cathedral, where topless activists Femen staged a protest at his visit, draping a European Union flag across the altar.

Pope John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit the European Union in 1988, a visit which saw Ulster Unionist Ian Paisley hold up a banner branding the Pope the "anti-Christ." It was ripped out of his hands by horrified colleagues, though Paisley had brought a spare and subsequently had to be bundled from the chamber.

No such drama occurred on this visit, but the consequences of such a speech in the heart of Europe's institutions could have far further reaching consequences that his predecessor.