On Friday (6 May), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and European Council President Donald Tusk attended the ceremony awarding the Charlemagne Prize to Pope Francis. The Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen decided to award the 2016 Prize to Pope Francis for “his efforts to promote the European values of peace, tolerance, compassion and solidarity”.
The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen is the oldest and best-known prize awarded for work done in the service of European unification. The first Charlemagne Prize was awarded in 1950 to Richard Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the Pan-European Movement. The prize is traditionally awarded on Ascension Day in a ceremony in the town hall of Aachen. The prize is named after Charlemagne, the Franconian king revered by his contemporaries as the ‘Father of Europe’.
On the sidelines of this year’s ceremony, President Jean-Claude Juncker announced his decision to appoint Mr Ján Figel (former European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth from 2004-2009) as the first special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. Mr Figel assumed this new role on Friday for an initial mandate of one year.
In his speech, President Juncker stressed that “Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which is part of the foundation of the European Union. The persistent persecution of religious and ethnic minorities makes protecting and promoting this freedom inside and outside the EU all the more essential. I trust that Ján Figel, our Special Envoy, will help us in this endeavor, sharpening our focus and ensuring that this important issue gets the attention it deserves”. In Mr Figel new role, he will be in charge of presenting a report in the context of the on-going dialogue between the Commission and churches and religious associations or communities, which is led by the first Vice-President Frans Timmermans.