The European Union has appointed its first special envoy for religious freedom with a brief outside of the EU.

Jan Figel, former leader of Slovakia’s Christian Democratic Movement and a former EU Education and Culture Commissioner, was appointed as the first Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU by President Jean-Claude Juncker on 6 May. The President made the announcement at a ceremony to award the Charlemagne ‘Peace’ Prize to Pope Francis.

Figeľs initial one-year mandate will be renewable, and he will serve as a special adviser to the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, the European Commission said in a statement.

“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,” Juncker said in the statement.

Figel, who publically proposed the position at the European People’s Party congress in Brussels in March 2015, had said before his appointment that “activities developed so far by the EU within the humanitarian and development or diplomatic field haven’t been sufficient in terms of effectively protecting believers”.