(Brussels) The debate between the six lead candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) for President of the European Commission in the hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday evening remained civil and polite even when discussing the most controversial topics. Many declarations of principle and general statements, not as much pragmatism, marked the minute that was given to each candidate to discuss each topic. Following the opening remarks, the debate started with a focus on migration. Jan Zahradil (Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe) denounced: “The quotas did not work, they only deepened the divide between” eastern and western Europe; we should “respect the sovereign decisions of Member States”, fight traffickers, create reception centres outside the European Union, and stabilize the situation in Africa. Manfred Weber (European People’s Party) cited Pope Francis and spoke of “humanitarian responsibility”: we have to win back control over our borders to prevent human trafficking; if he were elected president, he would appoint a commissioner for Africa. Nico Cué (European Left), the son of Spanish refugees in Belgium, spoke of a “human drama” and of migration as an opportunity. He challenged the rhetoric of ‘”invasion”, since migrants only account for 0.5% of the EU population.
Solidarity was the key word used by Ska Keller (European Green Party): “What is happening right now is unacceptable: we need to have a European search and rescue” system; by Margrethe Vestager (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), we need to “save lives at sea” and seek “long-term solutions” together; and by Frans Timmermans (Party of European Socialists) “every time a person dies in the Mediterranean, Europe loses a bit of its soul”: people on boats must be saved, without putting fines on other boats rescuing them (a clear reference to the Italian Government). The principle of solidarity also applies to what we do not like, to avoid the creation of new borders within Europe.