A senior EU politician has sparked a seasonal spat over religious diversity.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, has been widely criticised for comments about a “dominant culture” in Europe.
In an Easter Monday message, he wrote: “If we want to defend our way of life we must know what determines us.
“Europe needs a debate on identity and dominant culture.”
While he didn’t mention Christianity specifically, his statement was accompanied by a photograph of the interior of a Catholic church.
He has also previously said that “European values are inspired by our Christian roots.”
If we want to defend our way of life we must know what determines us. Europe needs a debate on identity and dominant culture. pic.twitter.com/3qbJVysNUi
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) April 2, 2018
Critics have pointed out that the church in the photo, San Cataldo in Palermo, is ironically a notable example of Arabic influence on European architecture and culture.
The German MEP has also faced a major backlash from political rivals in the European Parliament.
The strongest condemnation for his comments came from EU chief Brexit negotiator and Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt, who called them “abhorrent”.
This notion of a "dominant culture" is abhorrent. Quite rightly, the EU's motto is "united in diversity." What we need is tolerance, respect for each other's culture, religious freedom and the #RuleofLaw. https://t.co/ZTB01ggRMn
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) April 3, 2018
Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld wrote: “The strength of Europe lies in diversity and equality. And in the rule of law. Dominance does not unite, it divides.”
And Green group spokesperson Ruth Reichstein replied: “Dear Manfred Weber – the Europe I want is an inclusive, free and tolerant Europe. I always thought these were our Christian values …apparently I was wrong.”
Some have suggested the controversy was caused by a clumsy translation of the German word “leitkultur” – which can also be translated as ‘leading culture’ or ‘guiding culture’.
The term was coined by a Syrian-born German political scientist who envisaged a common set of values – including the separation of the church and state – being the basis for a united society.
It reentered the political lexicon recently as debate raged in Germany about how to integrate recently arrived refugees.
Politicians from Germany’s centre-right have been accused of the term to keep voters from turning to the far-right Alternative for Germany party, who strongly support the concept of a “leitkultur.”
It has been suggested Mr Weber was attempting to do exactly that ahead of elections in Bavaria later this year where his centre-right CSU party is being challenged from the far-right.
His tweet was the latest in a string of recent high profile moves designed to appeal to his conservative constituents.
Last month he travelled to Hungary to campaign alongside the country’s stridently anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The two British MEPs in Mr Weber’s political group – Julie Girling and Richard Ashworth – did not want to comment.