Wednesday

5th Aug 2020

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

  • Socialist group leader Iratxe Garcia (r) and EPP group chairman Manfred Weber (r) at the latest meeting of the European Parliament's political leadership (Photo: European Parliament)

The controversial title for a future commission vice-president's role, of "protecting the European way of life", is creating deep divisions in the European parliament as MEPs prepare to debate the new executive of president-elect Ursula von der Leyen.

Socialists, liberals and greens have raised questions about the definition of the European "way of life".

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They are concerned that when linked to migration, as in the job description for Greek commission-designate Margaritis Schinas, it panders to the far-right.

On Monday, French far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen hailed the title as an "ideological victory".

Manfred Weber, the group leader of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), von der Leyen's party, on Tuesday (17 September) defended the job title.

"We should not allow that right [wing] extremist, like Marine Le Pen, hijack the European way of life debate, it is our debate, it is a Christian democratic debate, a debate with socialists, liberals, it is a traditional debate of the political centre," he said in Strasbourg.

Weber said the title is a good one, and EPP will defend it.

"Is there someone in the room who wants to live the Chinese way of life, the African way of life or the American way of life? I want to live the European way of life, with solidarity, with democracy, with protecting human rights, especially when it is about migrants, it is absolutely clear, […] tolerance," he told reporters.

Weber, who ran for von der Leyen's job before the European elections in May, had also used the term "defending the European way of life" in his campaign.

He said that he had met a lot of Europeans who felt "helpless in a world where we have so much uncertainty", and that they were "looking for orientations and also for a positive identity".

Weber said he cannot see the problem with the title.

"This means to rescue people in the Mediterranean, it is not to close harbours," the Bavarian politician added on his definition of the European way of life.

Von der Leyen also defended her choice of words over the weekend, quoting the fundamental values of the EU, without mentioning migration.

'Needs to change'

But the issue has emerged as a key obstacle for other parties to approve von der Leyen's commission in October.

Socialist group leader Iratxe Garcia said her group is against the name, especially with the title being linked to migration.

"The European way of life shouldn't threaten a migration policy, which is underpinned by the principles of solidarity, this is the point she ought to have made," the Spanish MEP said.

She said that the title needs to change.

Green co-chair Philippe Lamberts suggested that the title reflected von der Leyen's efforts to cater to the right.

"She decided to give promises to the right, even to the far-right, that is my interpretation of the various portfolios, including Schinas' portfolio," he told reporters in Strasbourg.

Lamberts said that in her July speech to the parliament, von der Leyen reached out to the Socialists and the Greens, but then her new commission and the promises made by it now lean towards the right.

"Migration is presented as a problem of security and our way of life. Migrants are seen as attackers and terrorists who do not sign up to our values," Lamberts said of the title.

"If I listen to [Hungary's PM] Viktor Orban, [the European way of life] is a marriage between a man and a woman, and they have many children, the woman stays home to take care of the children, they go to mass on Sunday," he quipped. Orban is a suspended member of EPP.

"They tried to imprison kids as long as they are migrants, they put up barbed wire, is this the European way of life? I happen to be European and this is not my way of life," the Belgian politician added.

Lamberts said sticking to the title doesn't help the new commission chief's credentials with the Greens.

Von der Leyen on Thursday will attend a meeting of the European Parliament group leaders and other top parliament officials, which will take place behind closed doors.

The former German defence minister had been criticised by MEPs for not debating them about the new commission in the plenary session.

Orban praises von der Leyen after first face-to-face

The EU Commission president-elect said she had a "good talk" with Hungary's controversial premier. Orban returned the praise, saying said the former German defence minister "thinks with [a] central Europeans' head".

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