The European Commission has been accused of adopting far-right rhetoric after announcing the creation of a new portfolio for “Protecting our European Way of Life”.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen named Margaritis Schinas, a long-serving Commission official, for the controversially named role on Tuesday, which includes steering the European Union‘s policy on migration and security issues as well as upholding the rule-of-law across the bloc.
But critics poured scorn on von der Leyen’s move, saying it suggested that migrants were threatening European values.
“It’s a far-right slogan!” the European Trade Union said on Twitter. “And why … is migration in this portfolio? We need protection for our democracy, against climate change etc – not against migrants!”
Dutch Liberal member of the European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld criticised what she dubbed a “fake portfolio”, saying the very point about the European way of life is that individuals have the freedom to choose their own way of life.
“The implication that Europeans need to be protected from external cultures is grotesque and this narrative should be rejected,” she said in a statement.
Ska Keller, president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said in a statement that putting migration and border protection under a portfolio on protecting the European way of life was “scary”.
“We hope President von der Leyen doesn’t see a contradiction between supporting refugees and European values,” she said.
British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Claude Moraes of the main opposition Labour party, also slammed the proposal, calling it a “real problem” that could threaten the ratification of the new commission by parliament.
“I will raise it in my group tonight and a reminder that the European Parliament has to okay all of this. A portfolio with a title like this just cannot stand in my view,” he tweeted.
French MEP Damien Careme, from the Greens-European Free Alliance, condemned the job title as “an abomination.”
“It looks pretty but when one realises that it means he will (be) in charge of migration, integration and security, then it’s absolutely disgusting,” he wrote on Twitter.
Amnesty International also hit out at the portfolio name, accusing Brussels of “using the framing of the far right by linking migration with security”.
“This sends a worrying message,” said Amnesty’s Stefan Simanowitz.
Von der Leyen’s team of 27 commissioners, including Schinas, face a round of hearings at European Parliament at the end of the month with the cabinet as a whole requiring a ratification vote by MEPs.
The incoming Commission chief said the new cabinet was “as diverse as Europe is”, but observers noted that all of its members are white.
Von der Leyen hails from the right-of-centre European People’s Party (EPP), the parliament’s biggest group of which Hungary’s anti-migrant Fidesz party is also a powerful member.
The EPP has been under pressure in many European nations, losing electoral ground to far-right parties, such as Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) or France’s Rassemblement National (National Rally).
In her mission letter to Schinas, a former Greek member of the European Parliament, von der Leyen underlined that “the European way of life is built around solidarity, peace of mind and security”.
“We must address and allay legitimate fears and concerns about the impact of irregular migration on our economy and society,” she wrote.
(2/3) However, it is scary to see a proposal for a portfolio on “Protecting the European way of life" which includes a #migration and border protection. We hope President @vonderleyen does not see a contradiction between supporting #refugees and European values.
— Ska Keller (@SkaKeller) September 10, 2019
A former German defence minister, von der Leyen defended the job title by explaining that it was part of her political guidelines published in July.
“Our European way of life is holding up our values. The beauty of the dignity of every single human being is one of the most precious values,” she told a news briefing.
A spokesman for von der Leyen added: “It would be helpful if people would also be interested in what’s in which portfolio and what projects are linked to a title.”