Since the election in May a former AEGEE member has a seat in the European Parliament. Kati Piri (35), once board member of AEGEE-Groningen, will represent Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) in Brussels. Plenty of former AEGEE members are connected to Brussels. Many work in different functions for the European Parliament, others for the European Commission or in jobs connected to the institutions. But an actual MEP? “I cannot imagine that I would be the first”, Kati Piri told the Golden Times. However, not even AEGEE’s alumni association Les Anciens is aware of other members who managed to become MEP.

Kati Piri profile
Kati Piri

Golden Times: Kati, did you already check out your seat in the plenary of the European Parliament? 
Kati Piri: No, I don’t even have an office yet. My first official day as Member of the European Parliament will be on 1 July, that will also be my first time in the plenary.

Golden Times: How does it feel to be elected?
Kati Piri: Great of course! The first couple of days I could barely believe it, but it’s slowly starting to sink in. It is exciting, but I also feel a great responsibility to work hard for all those people who put their trust in me and in the Dutch Labour Party. The EU will have to deliver results for its citizens in order to keep the European project alive.

Golden Times: Tell us about yourself: you were born in Hungary. How come that you moved to the Netherlands?
Kati Piri: My father was 16 when he fled Hungary in 1956. After having spent four years in Austria, he got a scholarship to study History at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. As of the 1970s, he could re-enter Hungary during his holidays. That’s where he met my mother. In 1979, I was born in the small city of Celldömölk, and a year later my mum and me joined my father in the Netherlands.

Kati Piri nomination
The big nomination night

Golden Times: Do you still keep ties to Hungary and relatives? 
Kati Piri: With the exception of my parents and sister, all my relatives still live in Hungary. Usually I visit family once a year during the summer holidays.

Golden Times: You follow Hungarian politics? In the EU the government of Orbán has many critics. For a reason?
Kati Piri: I don’t follow Hungarian politics on a daily basis, but close enough to have a good picture of the political situation. Having been brought up in a country with a long democratic tradition and respect for the rule of law, I am very sad and concerned about the developments in Hungary – and I think all democrats are, both from the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Golden Times: You were member of AEGEE-Groningen. How did you join the association?
Kati Piri: During my first year in university, I attended a weekly AEGEE-drink. The people I met during that night are still among my very best friends!

Kati Piri Hannes Swoboda Georgia
Democracy promotion in Georgia with Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda

Golden Times: How active were you? And for how many years?
Kati Piri: I was very active for some three or four years. For one year I was a member of the board, responsible for European events. Among others, I co-organized the so-called BIG exchange between Belgrade, Istanbul and Groningen for two years. I can recall Agoras in Udine and Utrecht and for some time I was tasked with helping new antennae in the United Kingdom and France – in those days perhaps the weakest AEGEE countries in the network.

Golden Times: Not many former AEGEE members went into politics. Why did you decide to do it?
Kati Piri: If you really want to achieve results and change, if you want to shape the direction of your local community, city, country or even the European Union, you can best do that in politics. I strongly believe that there is a lot to fight for, like preventing that a whole new generation grows up in Europe without having the perspective of a decent job.

Golden Times: And why did you choose the PvdA?
Kati Piri: The PvdA is a progressive, social democratic party with a very long tradition of international solidarity. A topic to which I attach a lot of value, as can be understood from my family history. But I also believe that a person’s chances in life should not be determined by where you were born and whether you are from a poor or a rich family. My grandparents were simple farmers living in the Hungarian countryside, my father was a refugee but also the first in his family who had the opportunity to study, and now at the age of 35, I am a member of the European Parliament. This is a chance that everyone else should also have.

Golden Times: How come that you were chosen as MEP candidate? Did you specialise in European issues? Or is there something from your AEGEE time that inspired you for running for the European Parliament?
Kati Piri: Aside from being a Dutch citizen with Hungarian roots and my AEGEE period, I studied International Relations, worked for a long time in the European Parliament and have been active during the last three years in democracy promotion activities in countries like Georgia and Moldova. Why I was eventually chosen, should be asked to the selection board and the PvdA party congress. But my personal background, study and work experience in any case played a big role in my own considerations to candidate for the European Parliament.

Kati Piri debate Delft
Campaign debate at the TU Delft

Golden Times: Did you hold some high positions in your party so far?
Kati Piri: No. Nevertheless, I have been active in my party for the last ten years.

Golden Times: How did you experience the election campaign? How much work was it per day? 
Kati Piri: Although one works day and night during the last weeks, I loved the campaign period! I worked with a wonderful team of ten highly motivated young people and the daily contacts with people from every segment of society gave me lots of energy. During the last weeks, an average day was between 12 and 15 hours campaigning. In six weeks time, I drove almost 8000 kilometers within the Netherlands!

Golden Times: How did a usual day as candidate look like?
Kati Piri: An average day consisted of a work visit related to my fields of expertise and interest, for instance airport Eindhoven about human trafficking, a refugee shelter in Amsterdam, and the harbour in Moerdijk, it also consisted of an activity with a local PvdA branch – for example visibility actions in neighbourhoods, handing out flyers on a market place, a talk at the university – and in the evening a debate with other parties. When finally at home, I wrote pieces for the website, answered emails and updated my Facebook page.

Kati Piri on bike
In the Netherlands campaigns also take place on bike!

Golden Times: Sounds tough. Which areas do you want to focus on as MEP or are most important to you in European politics? 
Kati Piri: As MEP I would like to focus on human rights in- and outside the European Union. For me, the EU is much more than just an internal market with a common currency. For me, the EU stands for values such as democracy, rule of law, equality and solidarity. If we don’t manage to keep up these important values, the EU will also loose its attraction in its neighbourhood and loose its credibility in world affairs. A precondition for a strong EU foreign policy, is a Union that upholds the values it propagates.

Golden Times: Were there other AEGEE members that joined the European Parliament before you?
Kati Piri: I cannot imagine that I would be the first.

Golden Times: And finally: what do you advise AEGEE members who would like to join a party after their active time? Why is it worth it?
Kati Piri: Typical members of AEGEE are young, active, social citizens who are interested in other cultures and are open-minded. Features that are very needed within political parties all over Europe. The turnout for elections is very low among young people under 30, while the problems they are facing are big: the high unemployment rates among the youth, the future of the social welfare states, questions on data protection and privacy, the environment, budget cuts on education in times of austerity, and so on. So young people are needed in politics in order to address these issues and to engage their generation in shaping their own future.

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