Pope Francis was awarded the presticious Charles-Le-Magne Prize yesterday. To my knowledge it is the first time that a non-European is honoured with this prize, that "is directed at a voluntary union of the European peoples without constraint, so that in their newfound strength they may defend the highest earthly goods - freedom, humanity and peace - and safeguard the future of their children and children's children."
In his speech of gratitude the Pope hailed the previous generation, who had laid the “foundations for a bastion of peace, an edifice made up of states united not by force but by free commitment to the common good”. “Their new and exciting desire to create unity seems to be fading. We, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there,” he said.
Wise words of a wise man, and there is hardly anything one could add. But I ask myself if the Pope was well advised to make this powerful pro-European statement right now, only six weeks before the UK referendum about their EU membership. Receiving warm words of support from the wrong allie might do more bad than good, and the pro-European faction in the UK is in bad need of reaching the hearts and souls of their British voters. Francis might be the wisest and the most courageous Pope since a long time, but still: He is the Pope. And when it comes to British souvereignity, being a catholic is perhaps worse than being a German. The British might have discovered some sympathy for Angela Merkel, but for catholic church they will never. So Pope Francis fine and courageous words might have added to his record of brilliant political statements, but if he would have waited 6 more weeks with it, until the UK referendum is over, he might have served the European idea better.
As the British say that the secret of a good joke is mainly timing. It might be that the secret of an influential political speech is also timing.