'Do you want to live the African way of life?' EU conservative group chief defends Protecting Our European Way of Life job title

Manfred Weber says he cannot understand the problem with new immigration commissioner job title

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Tuesday 17 September 2019 15:31 BST
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EU centre-right chief defends European Way of Life job title

The leader of the largest group in the European Parliament has come out in defence of a controversial new EU job title that critics likened to "fascist rhetoric".

The European Commission earlier this month decided to create a new Commissioner in charge of Protecting Our European Way of Life – and give them responsibility for immigration policy.

But Manfred Weber, the chairman of the centre-right European People's Party, told reporters that he "cannot understand why politicians are attacking a title to protect or defend the European way of life".

"The title is absolutely crystal clear: we defend the title, we think the title is a good title – to protect, defend the European way of life. Is there somebody in the room who wants to live the Chinese way of life? Somebody in the room who wants to live the African way of life? Or the American way of life?" he told a press conference at the European Parliament.

"I want to live the European way of life, with solidarity, with democracy, with protecting human rights - especially when it's about migrants. It's absolutely crystal clear."

Incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen came under pressure to drop the title, which she unveiled with her new cabinet earlier this month. She however instead defended it in an op-ed this weekend, warning that "adversaries of Europe" were threatening these values of "tolerance" and "nondiscrimination".

Speaking in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Mr Weber added: "I am proud to be a European, and frankly speaking I cannot understand why politicians are attacking a title to protect or defend the European way of life.

"I think it was a very important step from Ursula von der Leyen now to clarify with her tweet last week referring to Article 2 of the Lisbon treaty, and also with the op-ed she did over the weekend to clarify the content.

"Politically what is important is we should not allow the right extremists, like [Marine] Le Pen in France, to hijack the European way of life debate. It's our debate, it's a Christian Democratic debate, it's a debate from socialists, from liberals – it's a traditional debate of the centre of the political landscape."

Mr Weber's comments attracted strong criticism from other MEPs. Labour MEP Seb Dance said they were "an absolute disgrace" while Green MEP Alexandra Phillips said she was "lost for words".

The EPP chairman hails from the same European political group as Ms von der Leyen, and is also a German politician. He was seen as a possible contender for the Commission's top job but was vetoed by some EU leaders, including Emmanuel Macron.

The controversial job title is expected to come under further criticism in the European Parliament hearings to scrutinise the Commission in the coming weeks.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing European Commission president, criticised the job title last week.

“I don’t like the idea that the European way of life is opposed to migration,” Mr Juncker, whose term ends on Halloween, told broadcaster Euronews. “Accepting those that come from far away is part of the European way of life.”

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