EU President: “Stand up for our values” & back the Pope

In a development which has left many reeling from the sheer unreality of it, the EU President has publicly supported the Pope, denounced Islam and left open the possibility of Turkey being rejected from the Union. 

I will clarify: this is not a piece of elaborate sarcasm, this actually happened. 

The EU Commission has in the past rejected Catholic commissioners, spoken against Church values and allowed John Paul II to be heckled whilst making a speech.

Talking to German paper Die Welt over the weekend, Jose Manuel Barroso accused European leaders of letting Benedict XVI down, after his remarks on violence and the prophet Mohamed in a lecture led to violent outbursts, murder and Church burning across Europe and the Muslim world.

“To attack the Pope because he referred to an historical document in a speech is fully unacceptable,” said Mr Barroso.

“I was disappointed that there weren’t more European leaders who said: of course the Pope has the right to express his views. The problem is not his remarks, but the reactions of the extremists.”

Mr Barroso implied that European leaders’ reticence to support the Pope suggested cowardice. “Perhaps because there is concern about a possible confrontation. And sometimes a sort of political correctness: that one is only being tolerant when placing the opinion of others above one’s own. I am very in favour of tolerance, but we should stand up for our values.” 

It is now very fashionable to dismiss Muslim violence as the work of an ignorant or brainwashed minority, countered naturally by exposure to Western society as it really is and not as preached by Imams.

However Barroso rubbished the idea that jihadists did not understand what they were seeking to destroy, saying “some of them are very educated people who have studied at our universities. And still, they hate our open societies, our free economies.” 

He went on to give the stark warning “If they are prepared to kill themselves for that, don’t you believe they are also prepared to kill us?” 

When questioned about Turkey’s upcoming entrance negotiations with the EU, he dropped the bullish, pro-accession line, which the commission has heretofore insisted upon.  

Asked whether Turkish EU membership could help boost moderate Islam and curb extremism, Mr Barroso said this is a “hypothetical question”.

“Turkey is currently not a member and in the short term, accession is not imminent. The EU member states have unanimously decided to open accession negotiations. This takes time, the result is open,” he stressed.

The commission will on 8 November release a report on Turkey’s membership preparations, with Mr Barroso saying the document will be “fair and objective” if Turkey has made progress to “possible membership” of the EU – notably he left the possibility of a failure of the talks open. 

This marks a radical departure in outlook and tone not just for the commission as a body but for the President personally.  

This dramatic vault-face ranks with the return of Elvis, Loch Ness monster sightings and Liberal Democrat manifestos for believability.  

What the media portrayed as an insensitive gaff by the Holy Father is now looking like the most subtle and potent move he could have made.  

In a week, he has highlighted the dogmatic insistence on violence in Islam, stirred public opinion against Islamic demonstrations in Europe and now the most prominent politician in the EU has publicly backed him, condemning European leaders who do not do the same.

While the new Pope may not be the great performer John Paul II was, he is proving a far more adept politician in a new millennium where subtlety is everything.

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