Europe is a mosaic of ways of life – What is Schinas’ take on the criminalisation of solidarity?

Margaritis Schinas has an interesting background – before becoming Commissioner designate, he was the spokeperson for the European Commission and an MEP for the Greek Conservative party prior to his (first) job in the Commission. But had his background been the strongest reason for concern we would be delighted. It is his portfolio, wrongfully named Protecting the European Way of Life, that rings alarm bells for us. Even less appropriately, it encompasses migration and security as if these two very different matters were two sides of the same coin. Unacceptable!  

It is this very conceptual association that led to the so-called criminalisation of solidarity, which has prevented Civil Society Organisations from operating freely for the past four years. Needless to say that those who actually suffered the most are those for whom CSOs were trying to help, especially migrants and asylum seekers.

It is essential that Margaritis Schinas clarify in his hearing before the MEPs how he plans to combine security and migration in his portfolio while fully respecting article 2 of the TEU – defining European fundamental values – and enabling the EU to overcome the systemic impasse in managing migration flows and thus ensure a functional reception of migrants and sustainable integration policies. It is important that the next migration agenda focuses not only on reception policies, “emergency” management and border control, but also, more than ever, on fair long term integration policies.  

Migration has come to symbolise existential crisis of the EU more than anything else, at the cost of people’s lives, while failing to solve the systemic impasse in approaching migration flows. These flows are structural and no border patrols will stop people from aspiring to better life conditions: what we need is a structural response that is humanitarian in order to cope with people’s aspirations, and that respects international law and Conventions by protecting lives over borders. We need a policy that is consistent by having one vision for the rescue, reception and integration of migrants and, finally, we need an approach that is solidarity-driven by convincing all Member States of the need to undertake joint responsibilities for the common challenge that the migration flow can represent.

This Commission has quite a collection of marketing-titles for its portfolios, but “Protecting the European Way of Life” puts all the others in the shade. “The” European way of life does not exist, because what makes the European Union such a delicate but promising project is its diversity. Certainly, no European way of life can be defined in opposition to migration. The EU stems from two world wars and the refusal to have a third one. Its stems from the values enshrined in article 2 of the TEU. And the ones who are threatening these values are the authoritarian-leaning and right-wing leaders, the ones who are breaching the rule of law, oppressing civic space, taking the deliberate decision to let people die at sea just because it is electorally smart to do so in the short-term. Short-termism is killing our – diverse –   European culture, not migrants.

Commissioner designate Schinas will have to respond on whether he intends to work hard for an EU in which safe and legal routes allow migrants to continue to contribute to the future of Europe and pursue their aspirations. The only ‘European Way of Life’ that we understand the EU exists to protect is one which respects human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.

We are ready to cooperate with the new Commissioners in ensuring that they see and take into account the experience of our members, dealing with societal challenges every day, and every day showing that solidarity-driven solutions are the only ones that work. Every day working on what policy-makers have left behind. We will continue to closely monitor the developments associated with the hearings and the mandate ahead.