Updates with Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis comment
Greece’s nominee as its next European Commissioner, Margaritis Schinas, will get one of the vice-presidencies in the new EU executive and will be responsible for ‘Protecting our European Way of Life, President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday (10 September).
Schinas, a former chief spokesperson for outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, will be one of the Vice-Presidents from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), succeeding Dimitris Avramopoulos as Greece’s representative in the EU executive.
EURACTIV.com reported in July that while Schinas is not widely liked by the journalistic community, he is seen as a committed pro-European with a good understanding of dossiers and is expected to be a ‘safe pair of hands’ in the next Commission.
The lists that circulated in Brussels in recent days did not include any portfolio for Schinas, and this new portfolio, although it appears complex, appears to be an attempt to break silos among different but, in principle, tightly interlinked portfolios: education, the labour market, migration and security.
A complicated porfolio?
According to the mission letter, Schinas will work under the direct guidance of von der Leyen on all topics related to his portfolio.
On education, his portfolio has some overlaps with EU Commissioner for Innovation and Youth, Bulgarian Mariya Gabriel. The two Commissioners will work together to make the “European Education Area”, which aims to boost key competences for lifelong learning and digital skills as drivers for jobs’ creation, a reality.
EURACTIV understands that Schinas’s role will be to identify policies to connect the labour market with education.
Schinas will also be responsible for the integration of migrants and refugees into society and the labour market as well as create pathways for legal migration, which according to von der Leyen, will help the bloc’s labour market.
“You will coordinate our overall approach and work on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum,” the letter reads, adding that “common ground” is needed among member states around the migration issue. Apparently, he will work together with Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, who is also responsible for the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
The phrasing of the job description and its reference to ‘protecting the European way of life’ has already prompted some comments that Schinas will be responsible for keeping migrants out of Europe.
Green MEP Molly Scott Cato told The Independent: “This looks like the portfolio to fight back against the rise of the fascists, but only by adopting their divisive rhetoric around ‘strong borders’.
“What Greens value about our European way of life is our role as a beacon of compassion and diversity. We will continue our work to ensure that Europe remains a safe harbour for those fleeing persecution and to champion global human rights.”
Main opposition leftist Syriza party didn’t comment officially, but Syriza MEP Kostas Arvanitis made a rather ironic statement saying that “protecting our European way of life” is just another way of accepting Orban’s practices and fighting refugees.
Last but not least, Schinas will be in charge of ensuring coherence when it comes to the Security Union, identifying linkages between internal and external security.
“You should jointly look at ways to embed a culture of cooperation between the two dimensions. This should take into account the links between international terrorism and internal security,” the letter reads.
Schinas’s portfolio has pleased Athens, considering that the migration crisis and Turkey’s unpredictable stance on the issue have topped the agenda of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
In addition, the New Democracy government (EPP) has said it aims to completely review and modernise the country’s education system and link it with the labour market’s needs.
Mitsotakis commented that Schinas’s vice-presidency is further “proof” that Greece is now upgrading to a “factor of strength and growth on the European scene”.
He added that border protection, collective security and mobility opportunities in employment, education and culture are key challenges. “Particularly in the first area, Greece as a European border country relies heavily on the new Vice-President of the Commission,” he said.
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. pic.twitter.com/H4ZMrS2Gz7
— Margaritis Schinas (@MargSchinas) September 10, 2019
[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]