Speaking at the Vatican today on the occasion of the award of the Charlemagne Prize to Pope Francis, President Jean-Claude Juncker announced his decision to appoint Mr Ján Figeľ (former European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth from 2004-2009) as the first Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. Mr Figeľ assumes this new role as of today for an initial mandate of one year.
President Juncker said: "Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which is part of the foundation of the European Union. The persistent persecution of religious and ethnic minorities makes protecting and promoting this freedom inside and outside the EU all the more essential. I trust that Ján Figeľ, our Special Envoy, will help us in this endeavour, sharpening our focus and ensuring that this important issue gets the attention it deserves".
The European Parliament supports and has called for this initiative in its Resolution of 4 February 2016. Given the importance of promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief outside the EU in the context of the European Union's dialogue and assistance programmes with third countries, the Special Envoy will serve as Special Adviser to the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica. The one-year mandate is renewable.
Mr Figeľ brings extensive experience in European and international affairs. He served as European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth from 2004 to 2009 and was First Deputy-Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic from 2010 to 2012.
As part of his mission, Mr Figeľ will present a report in the context of the on-going dialogue between the Commission and churches and religious associations or communities, which is led by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.