As per a newsletter from HRWF, it was the website Christian Network Europe (CNE) that broke the news on 4th July, of the EU appointing a new EU Special Envoy on FoRB (Freedom of Religion or Belief), even if there is no official record of this and seems to be a corridors rumour, just one day before the UK International Ministerial on FoRB started in London. That would have been a good opportunity that the EU missed to introduce, if this would be confirmed, this new appointment, and would have sent a strong message of the EU caring for such a fundamental issue for so many in Europe and around the world. Instead, the EU sent the Commission on Human Rights Eamon Gilmore, who delivered a pledge to the attendees, and that The European Times reported on.
Practising what we preach
While many speak loudly about protecting freedom of religion or belief, often decrease their volume even to silence when it comes to speaking out about the discrimination suffered by the “real minorities”, and even more if it is inside Europe, with the excuse of having “external mandates”. What will be it like with the new EU Special Envoy on FoRB, and how long will it last, is still to be seen in view of the last appointed one, but many minorities asked by The European Times, hope that they will not be forgotten outside, nor inside the EU since, as it is often flagged, the EU still must learn to practice what it preaches.
The new (to be) EU Special Envoy on FoRB
Mauro, a Roman Catholic, is currently the chairman of Pololari per I’Italia, the small Christian Democratic Party in Italy, CNE reports. He also works as a senior advisor and runs an international relations study centre.
He was an MP between 1999 and 2013. During that time, he already drew attention to the situation of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. In 2011, he was critical of a motion of the EU ministers of Foreign Affairs. The bill was about religious freedom but did not specifically mention Christian minorities, Domradio reports.
In an earlier interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Mauro said that he saw the prevention of persecution of Christians as an important part of his political career with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of which he was also part at the time. There he was also active against discrimination and hate towards Christians, Catholic News Agency reports.
At another occasion, he said that religious freedom is a test for other freedoms and rights. “The persecution of Christians throughout the world is one of the greatest challenges to human dignity”, he stated, according to Catholic News Agency.
That Mauro is actively involved in combatting religious persecution, is shown by his actions for the Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi. She was sentenced to the death penalty, but is now free again.
Also, in his website he highlights a very important moment for him, saying:
In 2013, Mauro became a member of the Italian Senate. The same year, he founded the Christian Democratic Party Popolari per I’Italia.
Mauro was Minister of Defense for ten months during the Enrico Letta administration.
Before becoming a politician, Mario Mauro was a history teacher. He graduated from philosophy and literary studies at the Catholic University of Sacro, Do Rzeczy writes.
Originally, the new to be confirmed EU Special Envoy on FoRB, came from the Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo. He is said to belong to the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, according to Domradio.
It is said that Mauro will succeed Christos Stylianides, the previous EU Special Envoy on FoRB.
Stylianides resigned after only four months in office. He served from May 2021 until September of that same year. He then favoured the position of minister in Greece.
Preventing discrimination outside de EU, of course.
As EU Special Envoy on FoRB outside the EU, Mauro will be responsible for preventing discrimination, promoting peace-building contacts, inter-religious processes and initiatives to reduce radicalisation in countries outside the EU, according to Do Rzeczy.
However, his influence outside the EU as a special envoy will be limited, proponents of the function of the special envoy fear. An often-heard critique is that the commissioner needs more means to fulfil his job well. Domradio writes. The reason for that is the lack of financial and human resources.
FoRB, Not a European priority
The function of the EU Special Envoy on FoRB does not seem to be a priority for the European Commission. Before Mauro’s successor, Stylianides, was appointed, the position had been vacant for ten months. Only after other politicians, among others, pressured the Commission it attempted to fill the vacancy.
However, after Stylianides resigned to take a position in the government of Greece, it took another nine months before the EU let rumours go around about a new successor.
A sign of the low support this post has had in the EU institutions is that it has taken 10 months for the European Commission to appoint a new person for the post.
In September 2021, the Christos Stylianides left after only working five months in the position. The Greek representative had been appointed in May 2021, after over half a year of vacancy, earning the protests of human rights groups and the European Evangelical Alliance.
Jan Figel was the first EU Special Envoy, appointed in May 2016. He completed his mandate in 2019 and was praised for his initiatives and has been so far one of the most open to religious diversity. Nevertheless, he was not re-appointed. The European Commission did not appoint a successor for Figel until the second half of 2021.