Pope Warns EU of Voter Disillusionment After Debt Crisis

Pope Francis said the European Union risks losing the trust of citizens by ignoring the social costs of the financial crisis.

In the first papal address to the European Parliament since 1988, the year before communism’s collapse in eastern Europe, Francis warned about the excesses of free markets.

There are “certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, and especially to the poorest,” Francis told the 28-nation EU assembly today in Strasbourg, France. “To our dismay, we see technical and economic questions dominating political debate.”

The pope’s remarks coincide with growing EU concerns about the social and political consequences of economic sluggishness. The euro area is seeking to counter the risk of deflation, bolster economic growth and reduce 12 percent unemployment after five years of German-fashioned budget austerity prescribed to overcome the sovereign-debt crisis that threatened to break up the single currency.

The economic malaise has fueled the rise of protest parties across the EU, where a decades-long consensus about the benefits of greater European integration is being challenged. A symbol of this trend is the EU Parliament itself, where euro-skeptic groups boosted their share of seats in elections in May to about 30 percent from 20 percent.

‘Growing Mistrust’

“There has been a growing mistrust on the part of citizens toward institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules which they perceive as insensitive to individual peoples’ concerns, if not actually harmful,” Francis said. “The great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their power of attraction and been replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of Europe’s institutions.”

The two biggest parties in the 751-seat EU Parliament remain the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, which are stressing the importance of a 300 billion-euro ($373 billion) investment program that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker intends to unveil tomorrow.

Francis, dubbed “The People’s Pope” by Time Magazine for his preaching of humility and defense of the poor, said jobs must be an EU priority.

“It’s time to promote policies which create employment,” he said. Speaking in Italian interpreted into English and other EU languages, the Pope said this implies “finding new ways of combining market flexibility and the need for the stability and security of workers.”

‘Vast Graveyard’

Francis also weighed into the politically sensitive issue of migration to the EU via the Mediterranean Sea, urging the bloc to forge a united response.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard,” he said. “The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which don’t take into account the human dignity of the migrants.”

Francis wrapped up his 40-minute speech by signaling the importance of EU membership for Balkan nations seeking to join and by urging European lawmakers to fight for the renewed confidence of citizens in the bloc’s project of peace and friendship.

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