Von der Leyen and Sassoli’s remarks are timely as they coincide with fresh footage of the death of George Floyd in the United States.
A British media company published segments of two leaked body-worn camera videos showing the arrest and death of Floyd in May at the hands of Minneapolis police. The footage was described as shocking.
The Daily Mail published an article with the videos. It showed about 10 minutes of video from former officer Thomas Lane's bodycam and about 18 minutes from former officer J. Alexander Kueng's bodycam.
The videos were made available in July by appointment for public viewing but were not supposed to be recorded or publicly distributed.
Release of the new footage comes after a meeting between von der Leyen and members of Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI).
German Greens MEP Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a member of the group, said the meeting was a chance to discuss anti-racism in Europe in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in America and implementation of the next EU action plan against racism.
“Together we will succeed in fighting racism and ensuring a Europe where the principle of equality prevails for all” Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana MEP
The MEP, Germany’s first MEP of African origin, welcomed the fact that von der Leyen “took into account” the idea of having a single coordinator for the fight against racism in the EU.
She told this website, “I also appreciated her recognition of the need for ARDI to be implicated in the ongoing development and implementation of the upcoming action plan on anti-racism. Together we will succeed in fighting racism and ensuring a Europe where the principle of equality prevails for all.”
The 71-year-old former teacher and university lecturer recently hit the headlines after an incident in Brussels.
She said she was brutally pushed against a wall by four officers, forced to stand with her hands up and legs spread, while her handbag was searched.
Sassoli has since written to Belgium’s prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, calling on her to take “the immediate and necessary measures.”
The intergroup has also now written a letter to von der Leyen and expressed its concern about “denial of racism in the EU.”
In the letter, ARDI asks the Commission chief to “break the silence and publicly acknowledge and condemn racism in the EU.”
The MEPs also ask von der Leyen to express her support towards all people who experience racism and xenophobia.
The deputies said they want to “use the momentum and not stop the intense debate” which started in the EU institutions after the death of Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests.
Further comment came from ARDI co-chair, Dutch Renew Europe member Samira Rafaela, who welcomed von der Leyen’s commitment to addressing the problems of racism and discrimination.
“We need to start from the inside of the EU institutions themselves, because if we don't do that, and don't have the right representation at all levels, the right questions will never be raised or listened to” Samira Rafaela MEP
Rafaela added that she agrees with von der Leyen “that we need a top-down approach, leading by example in our own institutions.”
She said, “We need to start from the inside of the EU institutions themselves, because if we don't do that, and don't have the right representation at all levels, the right questions will never be raised or listened to,” she explained.
“As von der Leyen has said, ‘the institutions have to change,’ and I am looking forward to seeing her initiate this change in the Commission.”
German Greens member Romeo Franz said that “equality can be achieved when the EU makes the fight against anti-gypsyism a priority, especially in the post 2020 context, when policy for the equality, inclusion and participation should be binding for Member States.”
Slovakian EPP member Peter Pollak, another ARDI member, said there are different manifestations of racism and discrimination, such as unequal access to education or basic infrastructure, including access to drinking water “experienced by many EU Roma citizens.”