President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s recent jaunt to Crete as guest of the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his wife has sparked a wave of criticism.
Von der Leyen and her husband embarked on a three-day private trip to the Greek holiday island, which wrapped up on August 14.
Detractors argue that the brief vacation might colour Brussels’ stance regarding Athens.
The issue of asylum is at the centre of a slew of controversies, including a spyware scandal, a tragic migrant boat accident and allegations of illicit asylum-seeker pushbacks.
Notably outspoken Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld recently raised concerns over what she said was the EC’s conspicuous silence regarding all those issues, plus the unsolved murder of a journalist.
— Sophie in 't Veld (@SophieintVeld) August 14, 2023
She suggested that von der Leyen should now distance herself from discussions within the EC involving Greece and its government.
Von der Leyen and her partner took off to Crete following an invitation from Mitsotakis. The center-right prime minister and his wife played host to the couple at the Greek leader’s summer residence located in the peninsula city of Akrotiri.
Local media outlet zarpanews.gr, said while on holiday the couples enjoyed a dinner featuring Cretan delicacies, all against the backdrop of the scenic Gulf of Souda. During their stay, von der Leyen and her husband explored the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
Furthermore, Mitsotakis treated the pair to a boat tour of Sfakia’s beaches, which was monitored by Greek coast guards.
A highlight of their journey included a break for lunch on the Marmara pebble beach, situated on the island’s southern coast.
It isn’t the first time von der Leyen has courted criticism over her visits to Greece.
In 2020, her presence at the Greek border with Turkey spurred a backlash. At the time, Greek authorities were deploying tear gas to deter migrants attempting to cross the border. Her description of Greece as Europe’s “shield” at a press conference during the visit further intensified criticism.
In recent months, Mitsotakis’ government has come under significant scrutiny.
A recent tragic accident where 82 migrants lost their lives in June prompted accusations that their boat capsized following a botched rescue attempt by the Greek coast guard, some 45 nautical miles off the coast of Pylos.
The incident has become a hot topic throughout the European Union. Many are now calling for EU and independent investigations into the actions of the Greek coast guard and of the EU’s border agency Frontex.
Despite the uproar, an EC spokeswoman emphasised that von der Leyen’s latest trip adhered to EC guidelines as a private venture. Sources from within the Commission refuted the claims that Brussels remained silent on the spyware, shipwreck and related controversies.