New EU chief doubles down on 'European way of life' tag

Brussels (AFP) –


The European Commission's incoming chief, Ursula von der Leyen, on Monday defended a controversial "Protecting our European Way of Life" title for her new migration commissioner, rejecting calls to change it.

The monicker is under fire from European lawmakers, rights groups and some member states for echoing the xenophobic rhetoric of the far-right.

But, in a statement run by various European newspapers, she said it was grounded in the "tolerance" and "non-discrimination" expressed in the European Union treaty.

Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, acknowledged that the wording "triggered a debate" and that "for some, the European way of life is a loaded, politicised term".

But she called the polemic "a good thing" that promoted transparency.

"We cannot and we must not let ourselves have our linguistic expressions taken away -- they are also part of who we are," she said, warning against "adversaries of Europe" trying to undermine "this European way of life".

While von der Leyen's statement focused on the wording in the EU treaty and appealed to higher ideals, she made no mention of the link she made between the title and the tasks linked to it.

In her mission letter to the incoming commissioner, Greece's Margaritis Schinas, von der Leyen wrote she wanted him to be one of several vice presidents whose mandate would cover education, integration, migration and cross-border security.

"Protecting our European way of life... highlights the need for well-managed legal migration, a strong focus on integration and ensuring our communities are cohesive and close-knit," the letter stated.

"We must address and allay legitimate fears and concerns about the impact of irregular migration on our economy and society," it said.

"This will require us to work together to find common solutions which are grounded in our values and our responsibilities."

- Confirmation hearings -

The row that has blown up around the term could threaten confirmation hearings for von der Leyen's that the European Parliament is to hold from September 30.

Several major political groupings, apart from the European People's Party (EPP) of von der Leyen and Schinas, have demanded the wording of the migration portfolio be changed.

But the head of the EPP in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, wrote in an opinion piece for the French daily l'Opinion that the controversy "to me seems particularly misplaced" and asked: "Should we be ashamed of our values?"

The outgoing Commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, who hands over the reins to von der Leyen at the end of next month, also criticised the title in an interview with Euronews last week.

"I think that this (title) will have to be changed," he said, adding: "I don't like the idea that the European way of life is opposed to migration."