“Happy and grateful”, is the first reaction of MEP and co-chair of the Intergroup on FoRB, Peter van Dalen, to the news that the European Commission has finally appointed a new EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom.
The Commission has appointed former European Commissioner Christos Stylianidis.
According to Van Dalen, it is high time he started work: “When the Von der Leyen Commission started in December 2019, it was noticeable that the position of the EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Faith was unfortunately not filled. In the meantime, we are a year and a half further in time, and many letters, questions and requests for this, but good: better late than never. The European Parliament’s Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Faith, of which I am co-president, will soon contact Stylianidis to coordinate the work.
Van Dalen thinks it is very important that Stylianidis gets off to a flying start with his work: “Religious freedom is under increasing pressure worldwide. Reports from Open Doors, among others, show year after year that violence against Christians, among others, is on the rise, but we also hear shocking stories about the treatment of Uighurs in China. Last week, on my initiative, the European Parliament also adopted by a very large majority a resolution against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, and for the release of the Christian couple Shagufta and Shaqat accused of blasphemy. It is crucial that we continue to fight for freedom of religion.”
The previous special envoy, Ján Figel, became the first person to hold the post on behalf of the European Union for three years in 2016. According to Van Dalen, he has proven the importance of this position: “Figel, with whom we worked closely as EP-Intergroup, played a key role in the release of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, who was imprisoned on death row for almost ten years for blasphemy. Besides her, however, there are plenty of others waiting for help. In short: finally that the new envoy can now get started!”