Opinion

Whats disappointed me in my first two weeks in Brussels

In my first two weeks as a member of the European Parliament, Ive stumbled into a baffling realization.

Next to nobody in Brussels has any clue what the European Union truly stands for — beyond a flag and an anthem — and more crucially, where it is heading. And that includes the EU leaders and senior officials soullessly waddling through the corridors of power.

When I arrived in the EU capital, I expected to find it brimming with activity and potential answers to these questions.

Instead, I felt duped: Making a tangible impact on constituents lives is apparently not what being an MEP is all about. (Oh, and Belgian hot chocolate is a distinct disappointment.)

When I look at my daily to-do list, I feel as though Ive left the shores of the real life and stepped into a maze of bureaucracy, needless technicalities and political performance.

“Instead of reaching out, people here are burying their heads in the sand” — MEP Magid Magid

MEPs live in a bubble — one where we celebrate politicians who bailed out bankers, blamed migrants and imposed crippling levels of austerity. Its also one where the slightest bit of difference stands out like a sore thumb. Only 30 of the new class of 751 MEPs are people of color, and if you look different from your average MEP (as I do), its not easy.

On my first day at work in Parliament in Strasbourg, I was asked to leave by someone who clearly thought I didnt belong.

This kind of thing is sadly part and parcel of being black and excelling in any field — my right to be where I am has been questioned since I was elected as a Students Union president at the University of Hull, and throughout my time as councilor and mayor of Sheffield.

Your face when youve just had someone ask if youre lost & then youre told to leave, on your first day at work. 🤦🏾‍♂

I know Im visibily different. I dont have the privilege to hide my identity. Im BLACK & my name is Magid. I dont intend to try fit in. Get used to it!
👊🏾💚 pic.twitter.com/HhWG63kE9U

🚀MΛG!D (@MagicMagid) July 2, 2019

But beyond my personal experience, what is most infuriating to witness is the racism in the rhetoric and policies of mainstream politicians — whether thats Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini launching his inhumane campaign against NGOs saving lives in the Mediterranean, or Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe comparing the emancipation of slaves from humanitys greatest crime to her vision of Brexit. These kinds of statements and actions — of which there are so many more examples — do untold damage to the lives of marginalized communities across Europe.

I have pitched my tent in Brussels in the neighborhood of Kuregem, a neighborhood between Anderlecht and Molenbeek, on the outskirts of the city center.

Online, the reviews were strange: People said “its not safe,” there are “scary people everywhere,” and so on. But when I arrived, I realized those reviews only meant that there are people of diverse backgrounds living there.

I ran my campaign on a slogan of “Immigrants Make Britain Great.” And in Brussels, eating delicious food and enjoying sweet mint tea among the hustle and bustle of Anderlecht, surrounded by the beautiful sound of Arabic blended with colloquial French, shows me that Belgium, too, is richer and better for its immigration.

More MEPs need to realize that the real fight isnt in the Parliament hemicycle, or in our compact offices — its in the communities we represent, and in the hearts and minds of the people who live there.

But instead of reaching out, people here are burying their heads in the sand. And faced with the everyday bureaucracy and contradictions of our jobs, its all too easy to do that.

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