New EU Parliament Chair Drops Push for God in EU Constitution

The new president of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering has said that, despite his personal convictions, he will no longer push for reference to God in any revised EU constitution.

Mr Poettering, a German Christian-Democrat, was voted in to chair the bloc's legislature in the first round of Tuesday's election by a majority of 450 votes out of 715 MEPs voting.

On his election, Mr Poettering reassured MEPs that he would act as a "fair and objective" president of the whole assembly, reports EUobserver. Meanwhile, most group leaders said they believe Mr Poettering will manage to act as a neutral president of all members.

Mr Poettering has already announced that one of his key priorities as president will be to boost a "dialogue between cultures", particularly between Europe's Christian and Muslim communities.

He also stressed that he wants the parliament to take an active part in a March declaration to mark the 50th birthday of the EU, which would highlight not only the commitment to the bloc's reforms but also its values.

He made it clear, however, that he would no longer press for a reference to God and Christian values in a revised version of the EU constitution, telling journalists, "as a president, I can't do it".

"As chairman of the EPP-ED [centre-right] group in the European Parliament, I favoured the mentioning of Christian values in a constitution but now I have to represent a majority position," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year expressed her support for a reference to God in a re-drafted EU Constitution following her visit in August to Pope Benedict XVI.

She said, "we need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way."

Mr Poettering has also expressed his desire to meet the Pope and other religious leaders during his presidency of the EU parliament as part of his effort to strengthen dialogue between cultures in Europe, reports EUobserver.