European Parliament President David Sassoli urged Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès to take “immediate and necessary measures” following an allegation from a black German MEP that she was the victim of police violence, according to an internal letter seen by POLITICO.
On Wednesday, Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, an MEP from the Greens group, told a plenary debate on racism and police brutality that several Belgian police officers had the day before, “brutally pressed” her against a wall in order to search her.
She said the incident occurred after she tried to use her phone to film police “harassing” black youths near Gare du Nord in Brussels. The officers refused to believe her when she said she was an MEP. “I consider this as a racist and discriminatory act,” she said. The police have denied the allegation.
In his letter, dated June 17, Sassoli called the incident a “shocking experience” and urged Wilmès to take action. “As president of this institution, and in the name of MEPs, I firmly condemn any disproportionate use of violence, including from the police,” Sassoli wrote. “Consequently, I urge you, Prime Minister, to take all the immediate and necessary measures,” and “resolve this painful case as soon as possible.”
EU rules also “guarantee that MEPs benefit from some privileges and immunities,” Sassoli wrote, and those are “indispensable to the proper functioning of their mandate.”
Herzberger-Fofana, who is vice-chair of the development committee, is the first woman of African descent to be elected to the European Parliament from Germany. Ethnic minorities are heavily underrepresented in the European Parliament. According to the European Network Against Racism, just 24 out of 705 legislators are people of color.
Wednesday’s plenary debate came after worldwide protests set off by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in the United States. Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated across Europe as part of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent days.
MEPs are due to vote on Friday on a resolution which calls on the EU to “officially acknowledge past injustices and crimes against humanity committed against Black people and people of color.”
A spokesperson for Sassoli said Friday that Wilmès had not yet responded to his letter.