MEPs square up in ‘cancel Christmas’ debate on Dalli’s staff guidelines

Left defends Dalli internal guidelines on inclusive language as EPP insists ‘Europe is Christian continent’

European Commissioner for equality Helena Dalli
European Commissioner for equality Helena Dalli

Maltese Commissioner Helena Dalli’s lambasted internal staff guidelines on inclusive language was the subject of a clash of ‘cultures’ as it were, inside the European Parliament.

The political blocs on the right squared up with the left, as the former accused the European Commission of attempting to stop EU officials from wishing Merry Christmas in official communication; while the latter said Brussels should be using a language of equality and inclusion that represents Europe’s diversity of religions and cultures.

European Commissioner for equality Helena Dalli was not present for the debate, and instead vice-president Margaritis Schinas addressed the plenary, defending the guidelines.

The debate was requested by the centre-right European People’s Party, with leader Manfred Weber extolling Europe’s Christian roots, and Italian MEP Antonio Tajani (EPP) hailing Europe’s cultural heritage as being inspired by Christianity.

“Freedom of religion, or not to believe, is a fundamental right we all enjoy... I’m a Catholic, I believe God guides us through life and that there is life after death... I am allowed to hold such beliefs and talk about that. Saying so does not mean I am trying to convince someone. Faith is a fact of life and it is being squeezed out of the public sphere,” Weber said.

“Europe is a Christian continent with Christian roots – today’s Europe would be unthinkable without Christianity,” Weber said, claiming that even the EU’s ban on the death penalty was rooted in the continent’s Christian roots, despite it existing right up after the Second World War.

The socialist MEP Heléne Fritzon however called the criticism to the Commission’s internal working document unfounded.

“We socialists stand for an EU that promotes equality among genders and others. Language can affect our world, and using a language of equality and inclusion is about communicating with the citizens and residents of our territory in an equal fashion.

“The institutions work against sterotypes and prejudices, guaranteeing that all citizens feel included and respected. We don’t accept retorgade forces who want to abuse fundamental human rights, or refuse women’s access to control their own bodies.”

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer criticised the Commission for repealing the guidelines, saying the so-called European way of had been turned into straight privilege. “The conservative forces embarked on this disinformation campaign during Christmas, when there is nothing about Christmas in the document you presented. And this when this same House had already issued similar guidelines that were also voted for by the EPP.”

The Renew MEP Dacian Cioloş said the Commission should concentrate on issues that were crucial to Europeans, such as the pandemic, gas prices and war outside the EU’s border. “Let’s not give extremists any fuel. I don’t need the Commission to tell me if I can say Merry Christmas or not, because this drives people away from Europe.”

Socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar accused the EPP of playing the far-right’s game by bringing up this kind of ‘culture war’ to the plenary.

The Greens’ Alice Kuhnke accused the right wing of making a mountain out of a molehill when MEPs should be talking about inequality and how the right was working against womens’ freedoms and the climate crisis. “The purpose of this document was to make everyone feel included; this is beneath all criticism, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

European Commissioner for the European way of life, Margaritis Schinas, defended the guidelines as representative of Dalli’s commitment to work for a Europe for the benefit of a Europe united in diversity. “As European institutions, it is our duty to respect the diversity that constitutes our union because this is important... The remarkable diversity of our social fabric of our languages, cultures and traditions makes this even more interesting and our communication has to reflect this in order to make sure that everyone feels included.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

More in Ewropej