Jerzy Buzek, a Polish Lutheran who has become the first president of the European Parliament from a post-communist eastern European country, says he wants to deepen dialogue with the continent's Christian churches - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.
"The principles associated with the whole tradition, culture and, above all, faith of Christianity have fundamental importance for me, as well as for Europe's future identity and development," said Buzek, who was Poland's prime minister from 1997 to 2001.
"A debate with churches and other religions on our continent's problems is essential," Buzek said in an interview with Poland's Catholic information agency KAI. "I've no doubt Christian values should be very important at an individual level for each politician and leader, but also collectively since they define and show the key ways a politician can act."
The 69-year-old politician was speaking after his election on 14 July to head the 736-seat parliament for the 27-nation European Union. He belongs to the parliament's Christian Democratic European People's Party grouping.
"Respect for others who think differently is also a special value for Christians. Such is my understanding of the presence of these values in social and political life," Buzek stated. "I have never manifested my faith in a persistent manner. The best way of showing what we believe in is through our own actions and behaviour in daily life, and by acting publicly in a way which reflects our deep Christian faith."
Buzek said he believed the "vision of Europe" promoted by the Pope John Paul II still indicated "the end to which we should strive", and said he was concerned European politics had "somewhat renounced Christian values".
Born in the Silesian town of Smilevice, now in the Czech Republic, Buzek has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 for the Civic Platform. This is currently the biggest partner in Poland's coalition government.
Buzek's election was praised by the Rev Thomas Wipf, president of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, which groups more than 100 Lutheran, United, Reformed, Methodist and other Protestant churches.
"It is good for the EU that for the first time a politician from the states which entered in 2004 will assume a key position," said Wipf, who also heads the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches. "Moreover we are delighted that in future a committed Protestant and member of a minority church will take over the presidency of the European Parliament."
The (Lutheran) Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland has 75,000 members in a country where Roman Catholics make up around 86 per cent of the population of 38 million.
Speaking at a Lutheran service on 20 July 2009 in the southern town of Wisla, Buzek said he knew "how important prayer is". He said he counted on "spiritual support and community" from fellow Lutherans in Poland, which will take over the European Union's rotating presidency in June 2011.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]