Also in the headquarters of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) in Brussels, it was a sleepless night, spent following the results of the vote for the European Parliament. In this interview with SIR Father Olivier Poquillon, O.P., Secretary General of COMECE, shared a preliminary assessment of the results.
The high voter turnout is the good news of these elections: do you agree?
The appeal to vote was the first message sent by the bishops of the European Union. The Church is therefore pleased to see that our fellow citizens have fulfilled their responsibility. The turnout of more than half of eligible voters shows that today the EU is on a good level to deal with a number of problems, and it also means that people have taken seriously the fact that we should not let others decide for us. We only have the right to complain if we participate in the life of society.
Christianity is not a religion of spectators but of people who are engaged in the life of the community.
Whatever the vote was, the people went to the polls, and now we hope that the citizens will also be present with those they have elected, asking them questions and meeting them in Parliament. The Pope has invited us to rediscover the sense of community in Europe and such high participation is a first step.
What is your opinion on the next Parliament?
We face an unprecedented composition of the European Parliament. We had grown used to the reassuring idea of two political groups that had a combined majority. The new majority will need to comprise three political groups. We will have to wait a few weeks to figure out who will be allying with whom and what the majorities may be. They may not be the same on issues such as migration, the environment, social issues, security or defence. This could be a factor of instability, but also a way of strengthening democratic processes.
The EPP, that until now has been mindful of issues deemed sensitive by the Catholic Church is one of the parties penalized by the vote…
The EPP group originated from the tradition of Christian Democrats, but they are present also in other political groups: among the Socialists, the Greens and the Liberals. It is not the Church that is close to the political parties, rather, a number of citizens carry out their engagement in politics and institutional bodies as Christians. The Church is not a lobby and she does not offer voting recommendations. However
certain deputies carry out their political engagement guided by faith,
an inclusive faith. The point is that Christians must contribute to everyone’s common good, Christians and non-Christians alike, grounded in their roots, culture and ethics.
Can we be happy about national results that rewarded candidates who say they are champions of Christian values?
We must be careful not to confuse the packaging with the content. The Gospel teaches that the tree is seen by its fruit. So the question is to look at policies, not at the flag or the rosary that are brandished. Some victories are achieved ‘for’ something or ‘against’ someone. The Gospel is our yardstick. And it cannot be fragmented. It must be taken as a whole, including its challenging aspects. Some Christians have voted Mr. Salvini or Mr. Orban and perhaps we should face the questions that this raises. That is going to be the real challenge for a Parliament that acknowledges the fact that some segments of society feel downgraded, with people who feel they are losing control over their lives. Simple answers to complex questions are always tempting. If the most intelligent people, or those deemed to be the most intelligent, do not make decisions that are perceived to be serving the common good, others will come along and decide for them.
What are COMECE’s plans for the coming weeks with regard to the new Parliament?
A new Parliament is a like a birth that bring suprises: we need to see how Parliament life will be structured, and the Church will try to accompany those who have accepted this responsibility. They will need to make choices. And choices entail renunciations. It will not be possible to go on as it was until now, new initiatives are needed. The next five years will be exciting but not necessarily enjoyable.