“European way of life” damaged by opinion copula

Ursula von der Leyen will be the next president of the European Commission and she is already drawing a shit storm of criticism, among other things, because she was never a “Spitzenkandidat”, something which, as some say, creates issues with democratic transparency.


One of Von der Leyen’s top team appointments, announced on Tuesday, included responsibility for migration in the remit of Greece’s commissioner-designate, Margaritis Schinas, under a newly created “Protecting the European Way of Life” portfolio. Because the phrase “protecting the European way of life” is considered a “dog-whistle” phrase used by the far right a new shit storm broke out.

Is Von der Leyen’s understanding of our “European ways” one that excludes migration? Is it a right wing one? It remains to be seen. What this incident is however is an instant of “opinion copula” which I studied here.

In principle the desire to protect your ways is not necessarily wrong if they are virtuous. Also what your ways include is not affected by your desire to protect them or not. The phrase “protect the European way of life” however is being used by those who think of “our ways” differently than others, in a way that excludes migrants etc. and hence as soon as Von der Leyen wants to protect our ways she is also assigned a particular understanding of our European values. Why? Because the phrase is copulated with far right opinions.

The open question, besides what Von der Leyen really believes, is: how would you express your desire to protect our European ways if your version of these “ways” includes compassion, migration, protection of human rights of refugees etc. If the bad guys hijacked the sequence of words “protecting the European way of life” what would we say to mean the same thing if your and my version includes migration?

Askitas N (2017) Explaining opinion polarisation with opinion copulas. PLoS ONE 12(8):