Battle for Christian Party Chairmanship in Council of Europe Draws Lines on Social Issues

Co-authored by Emanuele Rizzardi

A battle over leadership of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Christian Democratic grouping in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), is pitting an Italian pro-life stalwart against socially-liberal counterparts from Holland and Sweden.

The leading social conservative candidate is Luca Volontè, currently the chairman of the Italian Christian Democratic caucus within the Italian national parliament. He is a long-time associate of Europe’s best-known Catholic politician, Rocco Buttiglione, sharing similar political positions and collaborating in the promotion of academic workshops on Catholic social thought.

Also seeking the nomination are Corien Jonker of Holland’s Christian Democratic Alliance and Göran Lindblad of Sweden’s Moderate Party. Linblad is also a fixture in the PACE establishment, being one of twenty PACE vice presidents.

Volontè has been vocal in his defense of life and family since his first appearance in the political arena thirteen years ago as a 30-year old Young Turk. In the 1990s, he had an important role in the rehabilitation of the Italian Christian Democratic Party, which had been racked by scandals.

In contrast, the Dutch Jonker was a supporter of a PACE resolution in 2008 promoting “Access to safe and legal abortion in Europe.” Sweden’s Linblad was chairing the proceedings on the 2008 resolution and therefore could not vote on it. After the vote approving the resolution, however, he remarked that while he “tried to stay neutral,” he nevertheless felt compelled to congratulate the committee for advancing the resolution.

In addition, Jonker favors homosexual rights.

Volontè told the Friday Fax that having a chairman committed to life and family values to lead the 201 representatives in the EPP group over the next two years was “essential,” especially as PACE was likely to vote soon on whether or not to accept two controversial reports, one on “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” and the other commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, which calls for increased access to “safe” abortion.

Moreover, the Assembly is slated to vote on a new judge to fill Italy’s slot on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a particularly sensitive area given ECHR’s ruling late last year banning crucifixes from Italian classrooms. The party chairman also defines the guidelines and voting rules for EPP members, the largest party bloc within PACE.

In addition to the three headliners, candidates from Portugal and Spain, João Bosco Mota Amaral and Pedro Agramunt Font De Mora, both with solid pro-life voting records, are jostling for the chairmanship. Current temporary EPP chairman György Frunda of Romania and France’s Jean-Claude Mignon round out the field.

Elections are to be held on January 25 at the start of the first PACE session of 2010.

The Council of Europe is distinct from the smaller and younger European Union.  Comprised of 47 member states, including Russia and its neighbors, it is considered the oldest and chief promoter of human rights, democracy and rule of law in Europe. Five other nations have observer status at the Council’s Committee of Ministers, including the United States.

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