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Controversies Accompany ‘European Way of Life’ EC Portfolio

Ábrahám Vass 2019.09.17.

Uproar accompanied Ursula von der Leyen’s move to establish a new portfolio in her European Commission cabinet, charged with “protecting our European way of life.” She, however, seems to insist on her idea, welcomed by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán and other right-wing and radical rightist politicians.

Von der Leyen appointed Margaritis Schinas of Greece for the job that will include among other things education, labour market, youth policies, diversity, refugees & migration and integration. This inevitably sparked criticism. A number of MEPs – ranging from the left to modest right-wing politicians, such as the EC’s outgoing leader Jean-Claude Juncker – were deeply critical of the move, arguing that these policies shouldn’t be put and “blurred” together, as it might lead to stigmatization, exclusion and, in the long run, potentially to violence. Critics also fear that making a link between migration and protecting Europe’s way of life, plays up to the far-right.

Those on the right, however, among them French far-right leader Marine Le Pen who called it an “ideological victory” welcomed the decision, likewise to the pro-Fidesz domestic press. Tabloid site Origo reminded, for example, that Orbán had repeatedly urged the ‘European way of life’ to be protected but without specifying what he meant by that.

Von der Leyen first responded to the criticism on the portfolio’s name by tweeting Article 2 of the Treaty of Lisbon.

Then, instead of backing down, on Monday, in an op-ed published in a number of European newspapers, she carefully and politely defended her choice insisting that this “is a debate we should have in the open.” Among other things, she wrote that “the European way of life is a loaded and politically charged term. But we cannot and must not let others take away our language from us: this is also part of who we are. We should not allow [interfering foreign or local powers] to hijack the definition of the European way of life”

She also addressed the extreme right by writing (and most likely referring to Putin’s Russia) that “we have seen foreign powers interfere in our elections from the outside, (…) and we have seen home-grown populists with cheap nationalistic slogans try to destabilize us from the inside. We should not allow these forces to hijack the definition of the European way of life. They want it to mean the opposite of what it is.”

As a result, many predict that von der Leyen would have a hard time pushing through her cabinet in the European Parliament.

featured image: illustration; via MTI/Szilárd Koszticsák