Ján Figeľ in Slovakia, August 2017 (Tasr)

Ján Figeľ, the European Union’s Special Envoy for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) outside the EU, has had his 12-month mandate extended by another year, but it should be longer, reports EU news specialist Euractiv.

According to Belgium-based Sophia Kuby, Director of European Union Advocacy for religious freedom campaigners ADF International, creating the post (in response to the issue of genocide in the Middle East) was “not enough. It is a very weak mandate without salary … staff or office budget”. She recommended a “four- or five-year term” and moving Figeľ’s position “higher up” and into the EU’s foreign policy unit, rather than the current position of reporting to the Development Commissioner, Neven Mimica.

“There is no institutional clout behind [Figeľ’s] work and that needs to be established,” Kuby said in her interview with Euractiv. Criticising the EU over the initial mandate, she added that “as long as this is basically a symbolic thing where he can only talk to the media – that is not enough if you want to implement policy”.

Asked if the EU could use the Special Envoy to ensure promoting religious freedom is a tool in EU trade talks and how it awards development aid, Kuby said: “Absolutely, yes”.

The former leader of Slovakia’s Christian Democratic Movement, Jan Figeľ, was appointed as the EU’s first Special Envoy for FoRB outside the EU in May 2016. One of the highlights of his first year in office was his role in winning the release in May of the Sudanese pastors, Abdumonem Abdumawla and Rev Hassan Abduraheem Taour.