EU leaders have paid tribute to Pope John Paul II's role in "reunifying Europe".

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said John Paul deserved "the title of the founding father of a united Europe".

"John Paul II will be remembered as someone who played an essential role in the reunification of Europe and in the advance of ideas of freedom and democracy in our continent," he said.

Mr Barroso said Europeans would never forget the Pope's struggle for peace and human dignity. His disappearance left a void in the hearts of all those, believers and non-believers, who were inspired by his example of courage and humanity.

The Luxembourg EU presidency too paid homage to the Pope's role in forging a post-Cold War Europe.

It said: "The presidency of the EU pays homage to the reunifying role played by the sovereign Pontiff, his relentless commitment to humanist principles, to democracy and human rights".

It added that throughout the duration of his pontificate, John Paul II worked for peace and equality, for solidarity and justice. Dialogue between civilisations and religions, fraternity and reconciliation were at the centre of the message he brought to the peoples of the world.

"The EU presidency bows to he who contributed to reunite once again East and West on the European continent."

Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, joined the other institutions in expressing his deep sorrow.

"The world - not just people of catholic faith - has lost an unforgettable spiritual leader, an enlightened champion of peace and solidarity for all. We will sorely miss a great European spirit of our times."

Mr Barroso will be attending the Pope's funeral in Rome on Friday.

Pope John Paul II had visited both the Commission in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1985 and 1986.

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