What do you think of when you hear the phrase “European way of life”? Is there a common bond shared by all Europeans, from Barcelona to Berlin, Sofia to Slough, that is also unique to Europe? If you were to ask random Europeans this question, surely the only common answers will be values or emotions that we all share – things like freedom, enjoyment and happiness. And we share them not as Europeans, but as humans.
The decision by Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming European Commissioner, to create a Commission vice-president for “protecting our European way of life” has been widely criticized for good reason. As migration is the primary focus of this post, it’s quite clear for all to see that the von der Leyen Commission views migration as the primary threat to the “European way of life."
This title is nothing but a dog whistle to the far right, repeating the frame that migration in some way threatens our way of life, as though we’re somehow here today having never been enriched by cultures from beyond Europe’s border. Simply by using the word “protect” the Commission is repeating a far-right slogan and reinforcing the idea that migration is a threat.
This is not the position that the EU's executive branch should take, and many have been quick to criticize the title. The Greens issued a press release demanding that it be changed, and individual MEPs have been vocal in their disappointment. “The very point about the European way of life, is the freedom for individuals to choose their own way of life,” Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told the Independent soon after the position was announced. “The implication that Europeans need to be protected from external cultures is grotesque and this narrative should be rejected.”
Even outgoing EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker – a member of the same European political party as von der Leyen – also voiced displeasure with the title. “I don't like the idea that the European way of life is opposed to migration. Accepting those that come from far away is part of the European way of life,” he told Euronews in an interview last month.
Despite this, it appears there’s no turning back. The nominee for this position, Margaritis Schinas of Greece, will have his European Parliament hearing today. The results of the last European election brought some hope that the strength of populist authoritarians may be ebbing. This will surely embolden them.
Sometimes it can be difficult not to repeat language of those you disagree with. Sometimes their language can be so absurd it feels only natural to point this out by repeating it. But doing so only reinforces the negative frames attached with that language. It’s disheartening and dangerous for EU bodies to adopt the words of extremists, especially in a way as public as a commissioner’s title. Instead, our European institutions should work every day to defend the true European values of democracy, human rights, rule of law and equality. These are the values that bind us together, not only as Europeans, but as humans.