Leading MEP Manfred Weber has made a passionate defence of a controversial new portfolio in the European Commission called “Protecting our European way of life”.
The newly created dossier has been allocated to former Commission spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, but has already sparked outcry. Von der Leyen wrote a newspaper article on Sunday in a bid to defuse the row.
Speaking at a news briefing in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Weber, the EPP group leader, sought to defend von der Leyen and the contested job title, saying, “I am proud to be European and I cannot understand why people are attacking this title which is in the defence of Europe.”
Weber told reporters, “It was important for her to do this op-ed to clarify things. What’s important is that we do not allow extremists like Marine Le Pen in France to hijack the debate about the European way of life. This is our way of life. It is not her way of life.”
“The title of Protecting our European way of life is crystal clear and we defend it. It is a good title. If there’s someone in this room who wants to live the Chinese way of life or an African way of life that is up to them, but I want to live the European way of life and I cannot see the problem with this.”
He said his understanding of the concept was “rescuing people in the Mediterranean, not closing harbours to migrants, and fighting for freedom in Hong Kong.”
Weber said, “These things, for me, are what is meant by the European way of life.”
“I am proud to be European and I cannot understand why people are attacking this title which is in the defence of Europe”
The “Protecting our European way of life” title, he said, “provides an easy definition of what we are talking about.”
He explained, “A lot of Europeans currently feel helpless in what is a very uncertain world and look for orientation, a position and an identity. That is what we should be standing and fighting for. We should be proud of Europe so let’s discuss it. I am ready to do so.”
The “way of life” job title, which many MEPs want to be changed, “gives a good orientation” that “we should stand up for,” said Weber.
He went on, “Let’s use this debate on titles to have a debate about the European way of life.”
He agreed, however, with those who have noted the absence of certain words in the job titles given to the new Commissioners.
Weber said, “I see no reference or anything about culture, research and innovation and fisheries. There is no mention of these issues in the titles, so we have to discuss these again.”
“If there’s someone in this room who wants to live the Chinese way of life or an African way of life that is up to them, but I want to live the European way of life and I cannot see the problem with this”
With hearings on the new Commission due next month, he said, “We want the Commission to start work soon because people expect us to deliver. Everyone has their place and should be ready to start.”
He said he was pleased there was more gender balance in the new team, adding, “that’s one of the good things about this college.”
He cautioned, “Parliament must use its rights in this regard. We in the EPP will give everyone a fair chance and, unlike other groups here, will not make any pre-judgements. It is up to the nominees now to convince MEPs. We will be very critical but will give all a fair assessment and hope the candidates will convince us.”
One of those who may face a particularly hard time is the Hungarian nominee, László Trócsányi, perceived as loyal to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. His candidacy has faced questions as he served as Justice Minister at a time when critics said the Hungarian government worked to undermine checks and balances.
Weber said, “This is a special situation with Hungary because the country’s ruling Fidesz party is still suspended from the EPP. When the EPP meets in a few weeks, Viktor Orban will have no right to speak there.”
Weber added, “Even so, we will give a fair assessment of the Hungarian candidate and allow him to present himself. He was on the Venice Commission for 10 years and Viktor Orban has the right to nominate a candidate for the Commission.”
Weber, an unsuccessful candidate for the Commission presidency, said, “We will make an independent assessment and give every nominee a chance to convince us.”