New EU chief faces MEP showdown over 'way of life' tag

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) –


Incoming European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen faced a showdown in the European Parliament on Thursday over her decision to give her top migration official the job title of "Protecting our European Way of Life".

The unusual moniker is under fire from European lawmakers, advocacy groups and some member states for evoking the xenophobic rhetoric of the far right.

The left-of-centre Socialists & Democrats group, the second-biggest political force in parliament, told Von der Leyen in a letter on Thursday they would withhold support from her commission if she stood by the title.

"The S&D group will not be able to support the new European Commission if its structure wrongly links the concept of 'protection of our European way of life' to migration and security," wrote the S&D leader, MEP Iratxe Garcia Perez.

The warning to Von der Leyen, who is so far sticking by the title, is a serious one as she needs the backing of the S&D in order to win parliament's ratification for her slate of 27 EU commissioners.

Von der Leyen is from the parliament's biggest group, the European People's Party, but won the commission's top job by only a nine-vote majority in July.

The former German defence minister met Thursday with the leaders of the parliament's political groups in order to defend her new team, a meeting that she described as "very constructive".

Dacian Ciolos, the leader of the liberal Renew party linked to French President Emmanuel Macron, said that Von der Leyen promised to "make adjustments" during the closed-door meeting.

The co-head of the Greens group, Ska Keller, said that Von der Leyen, who will take office on November 1 for five years, "did not propose changes, but said she was open to debate."

MEPs will start in 11 days to vet the different commissioners before a vote on the new European Commission as a whole, scheduled for October 23.

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

The parliament hearing for Schinas, a former spokesman for the European Commission, is scheduled for Thursday, October 3.

Von der Leyen on Monday 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 controversy "a good thing" that promoted transparency and refused to budge on the issue.