Outcry over EU 'way of life' migration portfolio

Brussels (AFP) –


An EU Commission proposal to brand its powerful migration portfolio as "protecting the European way of life" sparked outrage from European lawmakers Tuesday who called it a worrying use of far-right rhetoric.

The row erupted after incoming European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen named her cabinet for the next five years and gave the controversially-named job to Greek former MEP Margaritis Schinas.

Migration is an explosive topic for the von der Leyen commission that is taking office on November 1, as far-right parties make electoral gains Europe-wide by stoking fears of a migration "invasion" from Africa and the Middle East.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, is accused of doing too little to stop migrants from making their way to Europe. The topic became a full blown crisis in 2015 when more than a million mostly Syrian refugees made their way to the continent.

In her mission letter to Schinas, 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.

- 'Scary' -

"It is scary to see a proposal for a portfolio on 'Protecting the European way of life' which includes migration and border protection," said MEP Ska Keller, who is co-head of the Greens group in the European Parliament.

"We hope President von der Leyen does not see a contradiction between supporting refugees and European values," she added.

British MEP Claude Moraes of the left-of-centre 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.

Amnesty International also hit out at the job title, accusing Brussels of "using the framing of the far right by linking migration with security".

"This sends a worrying message," said Stefan Simanowitz of Amnesty International.

- 'Dignity' defended -

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 AfD or France's Rassemblement National.

Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, 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."

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.