MEPs marked plenary opening session on Wednesday by widely condemning the recent death of George Floyd, which has led to a wave of anti-racism protests.
Kicking off the debate, Greens deputy Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana said that was “humiliated” by Belgian police on Tuesday night when she tried to photograph officers “harassing” a small group of black men outside the city’s Gare du Nord rail station.
In an impassioned speech, Herzberger-Fofana, a Development Committee member, said, “One of the police wrenched the phone from me and pushed me against a wall. I told them I was an MEP and showed by ID and my parliamentary passes but they said they did not believe me.”
“This was a brutal and humiliating attack on me and was extremely traumatic. I was so afraid afterward that I stayed in the Parliament all night and dare not go out until 6am today.”
She added, “As a black woman who lives in Europe I have to say that I have experienced racism for 40 years.”
The attack was condemned by David Sassoli, Parliament's President, who asked her to see him “so that I can have full details of this incident.”
“This was a brutal and humiliating attack on me and was extremely traumatic. I was so afraid afterward that I stayed in the Parliament all night and dare not go out until 6am today” Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana MEP
He said the police and Belgian authorities would be asked to investigate.
Belgian Greens MEP Philippe Lamberts said, “This incident was quite intolerable and the fact that she is black and this happened to her is not a mere coincidence. She did nothing wrong and had committed no crime.”
“She was brutalised by the police and all because she was taking a photo of a police attack on young black men,” said Lamberts, the group’s co-leader.
At the request of Sassoli, a minute’s silence was held at the start of the session “in memory of George Floyd and all victims of racial discrimination.”
In the debate, the death of Floyd, a result of police brutality in Minneapolis which caused an international outcry among people throughout North America and Europe, was condemned by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Looking towards Herzberger-Fofana, she said, “I don’t know what it’s like to be black and I have never been treated differently because of my appearance when I look for a job or go to the shops or anything like what you experienced.”
“But we do have a chance to do something about it. Those who go out to demonstrate want to be heard. The time has come for us to do more than just listen and condemn it but to talk about racism frankly. We need to confront reality and relentless fight racism and discrimination. There is no place for this in our society, that is for sure.”
“The time has come for us to do more than just listen and condemn it but to talk about racism frankly. We need to confront reality and relentless fight racism and discrimination. There is no place for this in our society, that is for sure” Ursula von der Leyen, Commission President
“We have to ask why members of such groups are underrepresented in some areas but over-represented in poverty. I want to get to the bottom of these questions,” said von der Leyen.
Socialist leader Iratxe García Pérez said, “I share the wide condemnation of the Floyd death and it is important this issue has been put on the agenda today. Why is it that black people suffer more from police violence and also the Coronavirus?”
Wearing a “black lives matter” t-shirt, she called for new EU-wide anti-discrimination legislation to help combat such incidents.
Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș said, “All lives matter and his [Floyd’s] death was terrifying. It shows there is still lack of respect for human life but racism is a European problem too. It exists here and is accompanied by deep structured socio-economic inequalities.”
He said, “The three EU institutions must sit down and ask if they reflect the diversity of the EU.”
Austrian EPP member Othmar Karas said, “there is discrimination everywhere so we have a lot to do. The pandemic has worsened social inequalities.”
“I share the wide condemnation of the Floyd death and it is important this issue has been put on the agenda today. Why is it that black people suffer more from police violence and also the Coronavirus?” Iratxe García Pérez, S&D Group leader
Alice Kuhnke, a Greens MEP, said “We have in Europe a series of well-documented atrocities in our colonial past that resonate still today, for example, in police brutality. There has also been systematic persecution of ethnic minorities.”
“The message is that no one is free unless all are free. The EU must step up because I want to put my daughter to bed and assure her that she will be safe.”
Sassoli said, “His [Floyd’s] death led to a lot of protests that show the value of democratic rights being upheld. This is a fundamental daily task which is of vital importance.”
“Look at Martin Luther King’s dream. We want this dream to become a reality so that people will not be judged on the colour of their skin.”
S&D vice-president for foreign affairs, Kati Piri, says she was “deeply shocked by the killing of George Floyd and the rise of the white supremacist movement in the US. George had a knee pressed on his neck for a breathtaking eight minutes.”
“We stand side by side with the peaceful protestors who are rightly angered by the institutional racism that generations of African Americans are faced with on a daily basis. In the past, the US judiciary had, in many cases, not prosecuted hate crimes committed by white perpetrators against people of colour.”
“We have in Europe a series of well-documented atrocities in our colonial past that resonate still today, for example, in police brutality. There has also been systematic persecution of ethnic minorities” Alice Kuhnke MEP
She added, “Hate speech and racism have no place anywhere - neither in Europe, nor the United States. In times of so much pain and anger, we expect the US president to listen to the demands of peaceful protestors.”
Croatian deputy Tonino Picula, Parliament’s standing rapporteur on the US, said, “The EU must not and cannot give up on cooperating with the United States, nor can it give up fighting for a world in which common problems are solved jointly.”
“We call on President Trump's administration to engage in an open and peaceful dialogue with legitimate protesters and acknowledge their requests for equality.”
The ECR, in a statement, said that it “strongly condemns racism, xenophobia and discrimination in all its forms and underlines that any cases of police brutality must be resolved domestically by the appropriate authorities.”
“The ECR also supports the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest but condemns the practice of radical organisations of hijacking legitimate protests and turning them into violent demonstrations, causing unrest and severe damage to property.”
A resolution on the issue will be adopted on Friday.