From the committee rooms of Vienna to the classrooms of Paris, from the streets of Amsterdam to the chapels of Rome, battle is being joined over God's place in the new Europe. \nIn disputes about the EU Constitution and commissioners and the right to parade religious affiliations in public, secularists have the upper hand. \nBut a backlash is predicted. \nThe schism opened during the writing of the new constitution. Despite the protests of at least eight of the 25 member states and lobbying by the Vatican, the text finds no place for Christianity and its role in shaping Europe, just a bland formula referring to the "cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance." \nThis is one of several successes chalked up by secularism, indicators perhaps of the cultural divide between the new Europe and US President George W. Bush's America, where religious and moral values are seen to have played a key role in the Republican election victory. \nMichael Mertes, a speechwriter for Helmut Kohl when he was chancellor of Germany, and a former editor of the liberal, Catholic newspaper Rheinischer Merkur, says: "Given the different national traditions in the EU, rigid secularism has become a lowest common denominator." \nThe new commission led by Jose Manuel Barroso stumbled when the liberals and secularists dominating the parliament took exception to the arguably reactionary views on women and gays of the Italian nominee Rocco Buttiglione. \nFrom Spain to Poland a new secularist ascendancy is sweeping all before it. In Spain, Jose Luis Zapatero's Socialist government is seeking to roll back the influence of the Catholic church. France, Europe's secular citadel, has banned Muslim headscarves in state schools. \nIn the Netherlands, a new breed of populist and militant secularists has emerged, personified by the assassinated Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, paradoxically dedicated to defending secularism and tolerance through increasingly intolerant views and policies, particularly on Islam and immigration. \nIn deeply Catholic Poland, there is widespread fear that EU membership will bring godless bureaucrats from Brussels bent on denying the Poles the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. \nAnd in Austria, where more than 90 percent are nominally Catholic but where fewer than 12 percent regularly attend mass, the Christian right seems to have lost a constitutional fight for God. \nThe governing party, the Christian Democrats, wanted a preamble stressing the centrality of Christianity. It has been scaled down to a reference to "the Creation," and the Social Democrats and the Greens want it scrapped altogether. \nBut if the secularists are currently winning all the battles, many experts fear they may yet lose the war, not least because of the growing influence in the EU of the new east European states, inoculated by communism against too much church bashing. \nEven the Czech Republic, which can lay claim to being the least religious country in Europe, wanted God in the EU Constitution. And the admission of 10 countries in May pushed the Catholic population, nominally at least, to almost 60 percent. \n"For Poland," says Aleksander Smolar, head of a Warsaw think-tank, "this extreme secularism dominating life in the EU is completely indefensible." \nAt a recent meeting of European intellectuals in Vienna, Jozsef Szajer, deputy head of the main Hungarian opposition party, reacted bitterly to the Buttiglione humiliation. \n"Why is it that a Catholic man can't become an EU commissioner, while a former communist can?" he asked. \nEdward Best, at the European Institute of Public Administration in Maastricht, in the Netherlands, is all in favor of keeping God out of politics.
HOUSES FLOODED: The ground shook in Tonga as explosions were heard, followed by gushing water and pelting rocks, sending people running to higher ground A massive volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered tsunami waves around the Pacific caused “significant damage” to the island nation’s capital and smothered it in dust, but the full extent was not apparent with communications still cut off yesterday. The eruption on Saturday was so powerful that it was recorded around the world, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the US. Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, suffered “significant” damage, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding that there had been no reports of injury or death, but a full assessment was not possible with communication lines down. “The tsunami has
‘ZERO’ STRATEGY: Carrie Lam said the airline faced a probe over its compliance with the rules after an outbreak was traced to air crew who breached quarantine Cathay Pacific is being investigated and faces possible legal action over an outbreak of COVID-19 in Hong Kong that began with the airline’s employees, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said yesterday. The revelation came as Lam announced the suspension of all kindergarten and primary schools until after the Lunar New Year early next month. Like China, Hong Kong maintains a “zero COVID” strategy that has largely cut the international finance hub off from the mainland and the rest of the world for the past two years. A recent outbreak traced to Cathay Pacific air crew who breached home quarantine has sparked
Japan extended measures barring almost all new foreign arrivals until the end of next month and is to reopen mass vaccination centers as it battles an surge of COVID-19 cases, the government said yesterday. “We will keep the current border control policy until the end of February while taking necessary measures from a humanitarian viewpoint and considering the national interest,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. Local media said that there would be some new exemptions for members of Japanese families as well as students studying in Japan, but there were no immediate details from officials. The government is also to reopen
PORT CONGESTION: Ships heading for Omicron-affected Dalian and Tianjin are being redirected to Shanghai, which does not have the capacity for the sudden cargo influx China has detected the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in a second major port city, deepening concern that the vastly more infectious variant could spread quickly across the world’s largest trading nation, upending global supply chains. Chinese officials said yesterday that at least one person has Omicron in Dalian, a city of 7 million. A second person also tested positive for the virus, but the variant is unknown. Both are college students who returned home for the Lunar New Year holiday from Tianjin, where at least 137 other cases were traced as of Wednesday. Dalian joins Tianjin as the second crucial port city