Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

Schinas spars with MEPs over migration job title

Margaritis Schinas sparred with MEPs over his "Protecting the European Way of Life" job title as new EU commissioner, telling them time will determine its fate.

Schinas, a former chief spokesperson for the commission, is set to become a vice-president in charge of a whole host of issues ranging from migration to education under the incoming European Commission.

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While setting out further details into his vision on migration and how to tackle integration, the name of the portfolio remained a contentious issue amid claims it pandered to populist and far-right politicians.

"Unfortunately, the title of your portfolio plays into the hands of right-wing extremists leading to interpretations that you are building a kind of fortress Europe," Birgit Sippel, a German centre-left MEP told Schinas during his three hour job grilling on Thursday (3 October).

British Green MEP Magid Magid said it was an embarrassment that seems to have been stolen "from some 1990s neo-fascist online chat room".

Dutch liberal Sophia In't Veld drew similar conclusions, pressing Schinas that the title has been embraced as a victory by the far-right.

"You know better than anyone else that no amount of interpretation and explanation can undo that," she told Schinas.

In't Veld accused the European Commission president-designate Ursula von der Leyen of dividing people by insisting the title of the portfolio remains despite widespread objections.

"The title needs to go. Full stop. So my advice to you is drop the dog whistle and work with us for the next five years," said In't Veld, noting that von der Leyen had won the support of the European Parliament with only a wafer-thin majority.

She then asked if Schinas would "yes or no" advocate to drop the title.

Schinas had earlier refused to answer the same question with a direct response.

He instead told MEPs that von der Leyen's willingness to listen means "time will provide the answer you are asking me to give now" - triggering a small round of laughter.

But when In't Veld pressed him again, he said the European Parliament in July had in fact approved the title when it was proposed to them as one of six guidelines put forward by von der Leyen.

"Shakespeare would have us believe that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But names are important because they give things meaning," he had said during his opening remarks in defence of the portfolio.

He then insisted the protection was needed from people who want to destroy the European way of life, drawing allusions to the terrorist attacks in France and Spain.

"It is the extremists and the populists that need to be afraid of our values, not the other way around," he said, adding that the European way of life means protecting the most vulnerable.

"It means feeling safe in our homes, in our streets and in all the places we like to meet, exchange, and experience life together. Being European, means being open to the world," he said.

Policy and promises

If confirmed for the post, Schinas said he would focus on making society more fair, deliver a new pact on migration and asylum, and complete the security union.

He said he would renew the push for anti-discrimination legislation and a European gender strategy to promote equal pay for equal work.

He also said more needs to be done to integrate migrants and promote labour mobility under the future European social fund.

"I intend to build on the 2016 action plan on the inclusion of refugees and migrants and additional funds in this area," he said, adding that more humanitarian corridors for refugees need to be set up similar to ones already established in Niger and in Rwanda.

He also promised to speed up returns of people with no right to remain the European Union.

He then echoed a strategy by Sweden's European Commissioner-designate for home affairs to first speak to individual member states in an effort to unblock years of asylum reform.

"We have to keep emphasis on the reform of Dublin and the corresponding procedures but to unblock the situation bring in all the other elements that combine the full picture, returns, new readmission agreements and arrangements, Schengen, borders," he said.

'Migration' is now 'protecting European way of life'

The upcoming European Commission has shuffled migration policy into a euphemistic new "Protecting our European Way of Life" European commissioner portfolio, headed by former spokesman Margartis Schinas. Some MEPs are not happy.

Johansson: 'No new proposals in first 100 days'

The European Commission's possible next home affairs chief, who is responsible for creating a new pact on migration and asylum, struggled to provide MEPs any specific details on how to unblock the impasse over asylum.

Opinion

Can Schinas put EU values back into migration brief?

Margaritas Schinas at his hearing before MEPs on Thursday has an opportunity to put the core values of the EU – peace, sustainable development and human rights – back at the heart of EU migration policy.

Poland's 'vague' nominee flops in EU hearing

Poland's nominee for agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, is likely to face a second hearing after MEPs from top political groups lambasted his "vague" performance on Tuesday.

Analysis

How MEPs will quiz the next commissioners

The EU parliament will organise public hearings to assess the future commissioners' suitability for their job and their knowledge about the portfolio they had assigned, before the new EU commission takes office on 1 November.

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