Following the debate among European leaders on Hungary’s LGBTQI+ law, which bans the promotion of homosexuality and gender reassignment among children, Margaritis Schinas, the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for promoting our European way of life, said he wants to believe that all Europeans have the same way of life. Among other things, he also touched on Slovenia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union and emphasised that Prime Minister Janez Janša is a person with whom Europe has an interest in cooperating.
Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, believes that the younger generations of Europeans are adopting similar values and adding that the mindset will change despite the limitations of European legislation.
When his appointment to the position of Vice-President of the European Commission, who is in charge of protecting our European way of life, was announced, it caused quite a stir. This is also why the word “protection” was later replaced by the word “promotion.” The Belgian newspaper Le soir asked Schinas if he had any regrets about that today. “I think I can talk about the sweet revenge against those who doubted the title of this vice-presidential post, including your reputable newspaper. All of them wanted to show that the European way of life is a binary decision: us against the whole world. These people are now realising that the European way of life is somehow our best shield against abuse.” According to Schinas, the words “promotion” or “protection” do not represent a label but rather the content.
“There may not be a “homo europeus,” who always thinks in the same manner, but there is a “corpus europium” of values that we all share, a certain model of society. However, there is no pan-European model of what Europe looks like; there are more, and this diversity is completely legitimate,” Schinas believes. He considers lifestyle and values to be synonymous. “What Europe represents in the world today is unique: minorities, human rights, universal healthcare system, education, the protection of our elderly, the absence of the death penalty … All this together exists only in Europe!” he pointed out.
Given that within Europe, there are certain countries that do not oppose abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage, the Vice-President of the Commission was asked, what message do such countries send? Schinas explained that they do not want a “homines europei” society. “But at the same time, there is an integral whole of European values, a common denominator. Where can we find it? The answer is quite obvious: in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. In fact, we may differ on some issues, but there is a common thread that connects us all together, namely, Article 2 of the Treaty and the Charter.”
Talking about whether all differences are compatible, the Vice-President of the European Commission explained that there must be a distinction between what we call the European model of society and certain areas that are not part of the Community law: same-sex marriage, the education system, relations between state and church, and so on. “In Greece, children of same-sex couples are not recognised as children of both parents; however, in Belgium, they are. If we go back to Article 2 of the Treaty and the Charter, we can always monitor, mediate, propose, ask questions in these areas, but we do not have legal tools for mediation in European law. On the other hand, where these measures are incompatible with the Community law, we intervene, just like we have before.” However, according to Schinas, it would be wrong to project the idea that all these issues can be resolved from Brussels in areas where the treaties do not give the Union the appropriate authority or tools.
Schinas believes that in the future, all these issues will be addressed in a better political climate because there are new generations everywhere, which do not share the same vision. He is convinced that there is another sign, namely, a sign of hope. “If you saw the tone of the debate between the Heads of States and Governments at last week’s European Council, it was also the first time that there was so much clarity on these issues at the EU level,” he said, adding that almost all of the leaders said that the European Union is not about adding technical obstacles and procedures. “There is a soul, a community of values,” he made it clear.
All questions about the values and modernisation of society are at the heart of the public debate in Europe today, a kind of greenhouse in which people move. “Young generations across Europe are coming together due to the same values, the same principles. I do not think you need to do this by lecturing people, but rather by creating the conditions for that greenhouse. The debate we had at the European Council, the interest of the press, all this will change things, I have no doubt about that, he said, adding that in ten or fifteen years, all of these issues will be clearly resolved.
Conditionality of the rule of law does not apply to LGBTQI+ legislation
Given that some MEPs are calling on the Commission not to give the green light to the Hungarian 7 billion euros worth stimulus package, Schinas says there was a perfectly legitimate debate happening in July 2020, during the marathon summit. “However, we have to differentiate between things because here we are talking about the rule of law. The management of incentive funds is about the independence of the judiciary and so on. The idea of separating authorities and independent judges who can control spending remains a priority. However, this “conditionality of the rule of law” does not apply to LGBTQI+ legislation,” Schinas made it clear.
Getting involved in an institutional crisis would be a suicide mission
Regarding the pandemic period, Schinas pointed out that 15 months of a nightmare from a science fiction story are finally behind us. “We have done everything we needed to do in order to get out of this crisis: we developed a vaccine, we prepared a recovery plan …”
As there is some concern that certain countries might block the Hungarian stimulus plan and thus cause an institutional crisis, the Vice-President of the Commission also touched on this issue. He said that the relaunch of Europe and, at the same time, the involvement in the institutional war over these issues was, in his opinion, a suicide mission. “We need to continuously discuss the issues, we need to take action, we need to sort things out and if we have issues that need to be resolved, they need to be sorted out,” he stressed.
Janša is the hero of Slovenia’s independence
Given that Slovenia took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on the 1st of July, there was talk of this as well. The Belgian newspaper asked the Vice-President of the Commission if there were any concerns in this regard. They asked him the following question: “Are you worried? Prime Minister Janez Janša believed in Trump’s victory; he is continuously insulting journalists on Twitter …” Schinas emphasised that he knows Janša personally. “Janša is the hero of Slovenia’s liberation and independence; he is rooted in his home country, he is part of its history.” When the media outlet asked Schinas whether Janša could be compared to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Schinas commented that he is resisting the temptation to compare the two based on their use of Twitter. “I have previously worked with Janša and his ministers and clearly saw the European beliefs in them, especially in the areas I deal with: security, migration, …” he pointed out, adding that Janša is a person with whom Europe wants to cooperate.
When asked: “When the government has strict views on immigration or the EU, we take comfort in thinking it is in an election campaign. Isn’t that a little serious?” Schinas replied that the question should be a bit different. “This is a question of European populist discourse. Migration is a very good example, just like the financial crisis ten years ago. All these political forces are building capital by playing this anti-Brussels game, claiming they have the miraculous solutions. The only true answer is the EU’s ability to formulate good policies and solutions that change people’s lives. There are no other means; this battle cannot be won in the field of communication; it must be won in the political field,” he concluded.