EU Parliament Chief Questions Greek Commissioner’s Role

European Commission's Vice-President Margaritis Schinas. (Photo by MotionTeam/Yorgos Konstantinidis)

European Parliament David Sassoli said a new European Commission post “Protecting the European Way of Life” – with Greece’s Margaritis Schinas getting the nod – should be reviewed because it doesn’t correspondent to the European Union’s real values.

The new position was another in a line of contentious appointment by incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with several named from other countries in the 28-member bloc tied to corruption and links to authoritarian leaders.

Sassoli, from Italy, said he wants to meet with Von der Leyen to talk about Schinas’ portfolio, which also covers migration, with Greece overrrun with more than 70,000 refugees and migrants who have been barred from other EU countries, giving him contradictory jobs.

The name for the proposed commission portfolio has caused an outcry, with critics considering it a concession to far-right, anti-migrant ideas at the same time Schinas would be charged with trying to help Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta, the primary destinations for new arrivals.

Sassoli told reporters he decided to seek a meeting with von der Leyen, who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President on Nov. 1, after several political groups commented on the “bizarre” titles of some portfolios.

“I assume that probably in the rush to give names to these portfolios there was a slightly casual approach and we ended up with these rather bizarre names,” he said.

In addition to the Protecting Our European Way of Life portfolio, von der Leyen’s proposed commission also includes job titles such as Europe Fit for the Digital Age or An Economy That Works for People.

Sassoli invited von der Leyen to attend a Sept. 19 meeting of political group chiefs at the European Parliament to discuss the issue but it wasn’t reported if she accepted and no explanation for the odd titles given to serious positions.

Von der Leyen unveiled the team of commissioners she wants to work with over the next five years earlier this week. The names she has put forward should get approval from the European Parliament.

Some critics said the name of the portfolio to be held by Schinas is an insult to European values and has been chosen to please the far-right at a time when populist and xenophobic ideas are on the rise across the continent.

LILY WHITE IDEA

“An all-white European Commission claiming to protect ‘our European way of life’ is a far cry from the idea of unity in diversity on which this union is built,” said Philippe Lamberts, President of the Greens group at the European Parliament. “Von der Leyen must present a better proposal” next week, he insisted.

Asked whether the European Commission was considering a name change for the highly political portfolio, spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said no quick decision would be made but the commission was listening to the different points of view.

Speaking to Euronews TV channel, Juncker said he didn’t agree with the new name of the portfolio because “accepting those coming from far away in Europe is part of the European way of life.”

He said he believed the portfolio title did not correspond to Schinas’ own values and “I think that this will have to be changed,” but Schinas had already said he was delighted with the appointment that makes him a Vice-President of the Commission as well, after he had served as its spokesman.

On his Twitter account, he wrote: “Thrilled to be nominated as VP for Protecting our Way of Life covering #migration, #security, #employment, #education. Ready to get down to work & looking forward to discussing with @Europarl_EN about how we can translate our political priorities into real results for Europeans.”

Detractors didn’t agree, pouring derision on the appointment of the veteran of Greece’s ruling New Democracy, calling the new charge “grotesque” and “a far-right slogan,” that undermines the bloc’s alleged reaching out to everyone, apart from refugees and migrants who’ve been barred.

After the outgoing fellow New Democracy colleague Dimitris Avramopoulos, who let refugee and migrant crisis in Greece fester for almost five years, the country trying to handle more than 70,000 of them, Schinas will be the second straight Greek in charge of the problem across the EU.

“It’s a far-right slogan!” the European Trade Union said in a tweet. “And why … is migration in this portfolio? We need protection for our democracy, against climate change etc – not against migrants!” the news agency Reuters reported about the barrage of criticism.

Ska Keller, President of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said in a statement that putting migration and border protection under a portfolio on protecting the European way of life was “scary”.

“We hope President von der Leyen doesn’t see a contradiction between supporting refugees and European values,” she said.

Dutch Liberal member of the European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld, slamming what she dubbed a “fake portfolio,” adding the European way of life is that individuals have the freedom to choose their own way of life.

“The implication that Europeans need to be protected from external cultures is grotesque and this narrative should be rejected,” she said in a statement.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)