MEP for the French Green party since 2009, Karima Delli is “Miss Social Housing” in the European Parliament. She is profiled in the second part of a series looking at the French election candidates, by EURACTIV France.
“At no point in my life did I think I could be part of this institution,” said Karima Delli, MEP of Europe Écologie–Les Verts, the French Green party. Five years after her unexpected election to the European Parliament, she is still stunned by how destiny propelled her to the fore of European politics.
Delli joined the Greens in 2005 and was fourth on the Ile-de-France list for the European elections. She is now 35-years-old and head of the North-West list campaigning for a second mandate in the European Parliament, seconded by the former President of Greenpeace France, François Veillerette.
Ecology for the people
Karima Delli did not have the ideal profile for the job in 2009. A professor from the renowned Science-Po University in Lille, Remy Lefebvre, described her victory in the elections as a “sociological miracle”.
Born to Algerian parents, she grew up in poor conditions in Tourcoing as the ninth child of a family of 13. In her book La politique ne me fait pas perdre le nord (Politics have not made me lose sight of the North), she describes her upbringing in a large family with a modest income, which she associates with her commitment to ecology.
She said her parents raised her to believe in ecology, partly because there was a need to be economical. She obtained a technician certificate in marketing before undertaking a bachelor degree in political sciences. During this time, she wrote a paper on women in French politics and met the French senator Marie-Christine Blandin, to whom she became parliamentary assistant in 2004.
Miss Social Housing
It was not her experience at the French senate that pushed her to run for the European elections in 2009, but her activism at the heart of the green political movement.
When asked why she is running for a second mandate, she emphasised her campaigns, especially the fight for social housing.
A European commissioner described her as a “French MEP fighting for the Romany people”. Indeed, the issue of Roma deportations and social housing are not far removed.
The fact that social housing is not one of the EU’s policy areas has not stopped Karime Delli from participating in French movements like “Jeudi Noire”, which fights against poor housing conditions for French youth. Many other EU policy areas affect the issue of social housing; the EU regulates state aid, thermal renovation and urban renewal. “All these issues affect social housing […] real progress has been made during my term of office,” she said.
Significant progress has been made but still not enough for her liking. “My fight is not finished […] I want to launch a European moratorium against evictions,” and she also wants to tackle the VAT rate directive and re-orientate it towards the construction of social housing.
“I have been told that my speeches are too technical for a woman!”
Delli has been fighting for respect since her first day in the European Parliament. She claims that “being under 30-years-old means something in the European Parliament […] it is difficult to be taken seriously at this age.” Prejudices can be difficult to overcome for a young MEP. “I have been told that my speeches are too technical for a woman!”
Her knowledge of languages held her back at first in an institution where the working language is English. However, after five years of hard work and “100% commitment”, she has earned her stripes, done an intensive English course and has even started learning German.
Karima Delli made it a point of honour to remain a committed activist during her tenure. During her time at Brussels and Strasbourg she has stayed active through her work at the heart of Jeudi Noire (Black Thursday) and Sauvons les Riches (Save the Rich), which she co-founded in 2009 to demand the introduction of a maximum European income.
As part of these campaigns, she awarded a “from father to son” diploma to Nicholas Sarkozy’s son and gave a cheap watch to his Rolex-wearing former advisor, Jacques Séguéla.
“In Parliament I have not stopped coordinating somewhat quirky actions, because I wanted to remain an activist,” she says. This commitment to activism has earned her the role of spokesperson for the Greens European elections campaign. It will be challenging considering that recent polls forecast a significant electoral loss for her party.