Commission of bishops compares the rise to the kind of politics that preceded the two world wars

Catholic leaders have condemned “racism and xenophobia” in Europe and urged religious communities to speak out against a growing “nationalism of exclusion” of the type that preceded both world wars.

The Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions (COMECE) called it a “matter of serious concern” that “elections at regional, national and European level have shown a new rise of parties advocating the supremacy of narrow national interests over universal human values, international commitments and obligations”.

“The Christian vision of universal justice and peace does not allow for any kind of chauvinism – it calls for solidarity and respect for all,” the conference said in a February 18 report.

COMECE, which has always been a strong supporter of the European Union, stated that Catholic social teaching stressed the rights of “nations, cultures and minorities within existing nation-states” and believed “nothing can be said” against strong attachments to languages and places of birth.

However, it added that many parties were now seeking power by demanding “unilateral national measures, if necessary to the detriment of other peoples”.

“These slogans regularly find their way into the mainstream media and are thus amplified and orientate the general political agenda of a country in a nationalistic direction,” said the report, titled “The Nationalism of Exclusion.”

“Often racist or xenophobic, they inevitably bring to mind the belligerent and ultranationalist politics which preceded both world wars. By suggesting the nation, nationality and their underlying founding myths are an appropriate response to our contemporary challenges, those parties and their advocates refer to a paradigm of exclusion that will make matters worse.”

Last year’s Euro elections saw big advances by radical Right and Eurosceptic parties, with the Front National topping the polls in France and the UK Independence Party in Britain.

The parties are gaining in response to unprecedented levels of immigration and Islamic extremism, as well as economic uncertainty and disillusionment with politicians, at both European and national level.

Some observers say poverty and unemployment, currently averaging 20 percent across the EU, have boosted support for nationalist and populist groups and intensified hostility to migrants, refugees and minority groups.

The conference report said that by “playing on the deepest fears of people, populist nationalist politicians seek to obtain power by offering simple solutions, ignoring the facts that solutions based on injustice or the marginalisation of a part of a society can never lead to a peaceful and progressive community.”

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, conference president, said the report would be submitted to policy-makers. He said the conference would provide national justice and peace commissions with a plan for assessing “the programmes and methods of nationalist and xenophobic parties”.