European Commission appoints Frans van Daele as religious commissioner


European Union

Leendert de Bruin, RD

Frans van Daele, who is the new envoy for religious freedom. Photo VRT

After more than a year, the European Union is getting a new envoy to stand up for religious freedom. The appointment of former Belgian top diplomat Frans van Daele comes "unfortunately too late for many religiously persecuted people".

With immediate effect, 75-year-old Van Daele will advocate religious freedom outside the European Union on behalf of the EU. His duties also include fighting discrimination and countering radicalisation, the European Commission said on Tuesday. He will also encourage conversation between different faith communities and help with reconciliation.

Outstanding experience

It praised his "many years of outstanding experience in the diplomatic field". Van Daele held several important positions during his long record of service. Among others, the Christian Democrat served as ambassador to Italy and the United States and represented Belgium at the EU and NATO. His last position was chief of the cabinet of Belgian King Philippe from 2013 to 2017, after retiring as a diplomat in 2012.

Van Daele is a Belgian but was born in the Zeeland-Flemish town of Oostburg. He spent most of his childhood in the Netherlands. As a result, he did not know a word of French. Still, the former diplomat subsequently made several languages his own. Van Daele, who studied philology at the Catholic University of Leuven, says he is "fascinated by linguistics".


He is known as a diplomat who brought thorny issues to a successful conclusion. It is said to be thanks to Van Daele that the severely strained relations between the US and Belgium improved again after 9/11. Belgians opposed the war in Iraq. As ambassador, Van Daele managed to restore ties between the two states.

The Belgian, who holds the noble title of baron, received several awards for his efforts. In 2017, King Philip appointed him minister of state -an honorary title- for "the outstanding services he has rendered to monarch and fatherland". He is also a Grand Officer in his homeland as well as in Greece and Italy.


Several European politicians had long been calling for the appointment of a new envoy. This post had been vacant since September last year. That was when Christos Stylianides left to become a minister in Greece, having held the post for only four months. Before Stylianides took office, the position, created in 2016, was also vacant for a long time. At the time, the Commission actually wanted to get rid of the position.

"For many persecuted believers, the appointment, unfortunately, comes too late," says the Dutch Christian Union MEP Peter van Dalen. He blames the Commission for the "extremely late" appointment. According to him, it shows that the daily leadership of the European Union "does not prioritise standing up for believers and religiously persecuted people".


As a result of this late appointment, the new envoy also has very little time to do his "immense work", according to the CU MEP. There will be another European election in a year and a half, when the entire Commission, including all kinds of envoys, will be replaced. When truly settled, Van Daele could leave as early as the summer of 2024, critics say.

"Finally!", also tweeted SGP member Bert-Jan Ruissen, referring to the months-long absence of an envoy. "Now to work for the persecuted church worldwide," the MEP continued. "Much needed!" His European group, the European Conservatives and Reformists, also exhort Van Daele to make a flying start. "There is no time to lose."

According to Van Dalen, the work of the EU envoy is becoming increasingly important: "Religious freedom is under strong pressure worldwide." This is also recognised by the Commission: "Freedom of religion or belief is under attack in many parts of the world."

According to the EU administration, the appointment shows that "the Commission is determined to meet this challenge and ensure that the rights of all religions and beliefs are respected". Van Daele brings dedication "to the protection of human rights and religious beliefs".

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on December 8, 2022



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.