Ursula von der Leyen: Western Balkans – we stand by you

The newly elected EC President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday in Zagreb that nationalists and populists would not destroy the European way of life, which is also the name of one of the portfolios in the new Commission.

That name has elicited criticisms, notably from European Liberals and Greens. They believe it has too many associations with the protection of Europe from illegal migrants.

There is no doubt as to what the European way of life is. We will never let those nationalists and populists, which want to cause divisions and destroy the EU, hijack our European way of life, von der Leyen said at a European People’s Party congress.

Our Union is based on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy and equality. We will always defend our European way of life, she added.

The European Parliament is expected to confirm the new Commission next week and Europe’s new government is expected to step into office on December 1.

Von der Leyen supported Croatia’s accession to the Schengen Area, following a positive recommendation from the outgoing Juncker Commission.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope that the European Council adopts a positive decision because I strongly believe that Croatia belongs in Schengen, there is no doubt about that, she said.

To the Western Balkan countries recently blocked on their European journey by France, von der Leyen said she stood by them.

We share the same continent, history, culture, and we are in the same political family. I assure you that we stand by you, independently of all processes. We stand by you and want you to be as close to us as possible, she said.

Talking about Brexit, she announced that, if it happened, the EU would respect Britons, notably in trade relations.

But we let them know that a country that is not in the EU can’t enjoy the same rights as the member states, she said.

The EPP will have eight European commissioners, including Croatian MEP Dubravka Suica, who will be the vice president for democracy and demography.

You will help us tackle one of the biggest challenges, how to ensure the prosperity of citizens at a time when we have an increasingly old population. You will put people at the very heart of Europe, said von der Leyen.