- Francis denounces `selfish interests' behind fences, walls
- Merkel says Francis reinforced her will to hold EU together
Pope Francis denounced the “selfish interests” prompting European governments to erect border fences to keep out migrants, a warning immediately backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel said that Francis reinforced her determination to hold the European Union together and “not to forget Europe’s humanitarian responsibility” in the face of the refugee crisis.
Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and European Union leaders including Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, sat attentively through a ceremony in the Vatican’s frescoed Regal Room, next door to the Sistine Chapel, as Francis was given the Charlemagne Prize for work promoting European unification.
The Argentine Francis, the son of an Italian immigrant family, seized the opportunity to contrast today’s fractious European Union with the vision of its founding fathers. “We, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there,” Francis said Friday. Today, more than ever, he added, “their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls.”
For the past year, EU leaders have been struggling to cope with Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Fears of migrants, terrorism and a populist backlash have prompted several nations in the 28-member bloc to impose tighter border checks and build fences while haggling over quotas for taking in refugees.
Merkel, who had a private audience with Francis, told reporters she saw his speech “as encouragement.” Francis’s words were “a call for us to act” and “hold Europe together, whether it’s about the currency, whether it’s protecting our external border, and above all not to forget Europe’s humanitarian responsibility.”
Reiterating remarks made to the European Parliament, Francis compared Europe to a grandmother -- “weary, aging, no longer fertile and vital,” he said. “There is an impression that Europe is tending to become increasingly ‘entrenched,”’ he said.
Francis, who has made migrants and the poor a defining part of his papacy, called for “new, more inclusive and equitable economic models, aimed not at serving the few, but at benefiting ordinary people and society as a whole.” He mentioned “the social market economy” encouraged by his predecessors.
“It would involve passing from an economy directed at revenue, profiting from speculation and lending at interest, to a social economy that invests in people by creating jobs and providing training,” Francis said. “We need to move from a liquid economy prepared to use corruption as a means of obtaining profits to a social economy that guarantees access to land and lodging through labor.”
Dignitaries in his audience also included Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament as well as cardinals from the Roman Catholic church.