2014 sees the departure of many well-known and respected MEPs, each having contributed in their own way to the work of the European Parliament. I would however like to pay special tribute to someone who was instrumental in the evolution of my own personal engagement with the European Parliament, years before I had seen either its Brussels or Strasbourg edifices. I am, of course, referring to Daniel Cohn-Bendit and his departure from front-line European politics.
Through Erasmus, open boarder, Leonardo da Vinci (the EU programme), integrated cross-national transport (and perhaps maybe a little good luck), younger generations in today’s Union can look to the EU has an enabler, creating a multilingual melting pot of ideas, cultures, histories and identities. If we wish, we can be ‘truly’ European. Daniel Cohn-Bendit achieved this long before such opportunities existed.
The political firebrand of 1960’s Paris turned ecological campaigner was born in France in 1945 to Jewish-German parents who had fled the rise of the Nazis. Becoming a leader of the French student movement in 1960’s Gaullist France, Daniel Cohn-Bendit became known as ‘Dany the Red’, as much for the colour of his hair as his politics. When de Gaulle discovered that one of the principle proponents of the student movement (or agitators of civil unrest, delete as you prefer) was actually a “German”, he was expelled from France, unable to return for 10 years. Upon leaving France, he moved to Frankfurt, playing for a local football team, forever sporting the number “68” on his shirt. He became involved in the growing German left/ecological movement (which remains the largest in Europe), entering the European Parliament in 1994 for the German greens (Bundes90/Die Grünen). He followed this by winning a second mandate in 1999, this time for the French green party (Les Verts), winning with an evolved epithet as ‘Dany le Vert’. His following electoral victories in 2004 and 2009 followed the same pattern, standing in Germany and France respectively.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s departure from European politics is a blow for the Parliament and the EU. It is also a blow for many of us who were inspired by him. But to be too saddened by this is foolish in the extreme, and I imagine is also against his own wishes. Daniel Cohn-Bendit is a symbol of bilingualism & multiculturalism, the post-war struggle, the emerging ecological movements of Europe and the call for the European elections to be a truly transnational poll. He remains a continental leftist who cowed British Eurosceptics, declaring that “within Europe you [the UK] can continue to play your role as a bridge to America. Outside Europe, you will not be a bridge but a doormat”, and the impassioned speaker that made his nemesis, Marie Le Pen, admit “to a frigid not to say lifeless assembly, his big mouth has given it the bit of life it needed”.
To young people today: students, graduates, interns and trainees and to all European citizens, he should be a source of strength, inspiration and energy. Europe and the world face many challenges, some old, some new. Now we must take on these challenges and responsibilities, and continue the struggle towards a prosperous, sustainable and open future with the same manner, determination and charisma we have seen from Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
Goodbye, and thanks for everything!
Auf Wiedersehen und herzlichen Dank für alles, dass Sie gemacht haben!
Au revoir, et un grand merci pour tout!