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Daniel Cohn-Bendit in 2012.
|Co-president of the European Greens–European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament|
|Succeeded by||Philippe Lamberts|
Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit
4 April 1945
|Political party||Alliance 90/The Greens (Germany)|
Europe Écologie–The Greens (France)
Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit (French: [kɔn bɛndit]; German: [koːn ˈbɛndiːt]; born 4 April 1945) is a French-German politician. He was a student leader during the unrest of May 1968 in France and was also known during that time as Dany le Rouge (French for "Danny the Red", because of both his politics and the colour of his hair). He was co-president of the group European Greens–European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. He co-chairs the Spinelli Group, a European parliament inter-group aiming at relaunching the federalist project in Europe. He was a recipient of the European Parliament's European Initiative Prize in 2016.
Cohn-Bendit was born in 1945 in Montauban, France, to German Jewish parents who had fled Nazism in 1933. He spent his childhood in Montauban. He moved to Germany in 1958, where his father had been a lawyer since the end of the war. He attended the Odenwaldschule in Heppenheim near Frankfurt, a secondary school for children of the upper middle class. Being officially stateless at birth, when he reached the age of 14 he chose German citizenship, in order to avoid conscription.
He returned to France in 1966 to study sociology at the University of Paris's Faculty in Nanterre under the supervision of the network society's theorist Manuel Castells. He soon joined the larger and classic nationwide anarchist federation Fédération anarchiste, which he left in 1967 in favour of the smaller and local Groupe anarchiste de Nanterre and the Noir et rouge magazine. Although residing in Paris, he was frequently able to travel back to Germany, where he was notably influenced by the death of Benno Ohnesorg in 1967, and the assault on Rudi Dutschke in April 1968. In this tense context, he invited Karl Dietrich Wolff, leader of the Socialist German Student Union, for a lecture in Paris, which would prove influential to later May events.
In Nanterre, Cohn-Bendit was a leader in claims for more sexual freedom, with actions such as participating in the occupation of the girls' premises, interrupting the speech of a minister who was inaugurating a swimming pool in order to demand free access to the girls' dormitory. This contributed to attracting to him a lot of student supporters later to be called the '22 March Movement', a group characterised by a mixture of Marxist, sexual and anarchist ideology. In the autumn of 1967 rumours of his upcoming expulsion from the university led to a local students' strike, and his expulsion was cancelled. On 22 March 1968, students occupied the administrative offices, and the closing of the university on 2 May helped move the protests to downtown Paris.
From 3 May 1968 onwards, massive student and workers riots erupted in Paris against Charles de Gaulle's government. Cohn-Bendit quickly emerged as a public face of the student protests, along with Jacques Sauvageot, Alain Geismar and Alain Krivine. His "foreign" origins were highlighted by opponents of the student movement, leading to students taking up the chant, "Nous sommes tous des Juifs allemands" ("We are all German Jews").
The French Communist Party leader Georges Marchais described Cohn-Bendit as the "German anarchist Cohn-Bendit" and denounced some student protesters as "sons of the upper bourgeoisie ... who will quickly forget their revolutionary flame in order to manage daddy's firm and exploit workers there". Continued police violence, however, prompted trade unions (and eventually the Communist Party) to support the students, and from 13 May onwards, France was struck by a general strike.
However, Cohn-Bendit had already retreated on 10 May with a few friends to the Atlantic coast city of Saint-Nazaire, seeing that his Nanterre group had become a minority without political influence in the larger Paris students' movement. Cohn-Bendit's political opponents took advantage of his German passport and had him expelled from Saint-Nazaire to Germany on 22 May as a "seditious alien". On 27 May the Communist-led workers signed the Grenelle agreements with the government; on 30 May supporters of the president organised a successful demonstration; new elections were called and at the end of June 1968 the Gaullists were back in power, now occupying three-quarters of the French National Assembly.
On the whole, Cohn-Bendit had participated little in the May 1968 Paris events, which continued without him, but he had become a legend, which was to be used later in the 1990s upon his return to France.
In Frankfurt in the family house, Cohn-Bendit became one of co-founders of the autonomist group Revolutionary Struggle (Revolutionärer Kampf) in Rüsselsheim. From this point, his fate was linked with Joschka Fischer, another leader in the group. Both were later to become leaders of the Realo wing of the German Green Party, alongside many former Communist and non-Communist libertarian leftists.
Some[who?] have suggested that the group participated in violent action, which was common in the German extreme left of the early-seventies. But testimony from witnesses appears contradictory, sometimes unreliable. Communal apartments were common on the left, and peaceful political activists could easily have shared living quarters with terrorists, without further collaboration. In 2003, a request was presented by Frankfurt prosecutors to the European Parliament, requesting they waive the immunity of MEP Cohn-Bendit, in the context of a criminal investigation against the terrorist, Hans-Joachim Klein, but the request was rejected by the assembly.
While Fischer was more concerned with demonstrations, Cohn-Bendit worked in the Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung bookshop in Frankfurt and ran an anti-authoritarian kindergarten. In his 1975 book Le Grand Bazar, he described himself as engaging in sexual activities with very young children at the kindergarten. In 1978, an edition of Pflasterstrand, an alternative magazine Cohn-Bendit edited, described being seduced by a 6-year-old girl as one of the most beautiful experiences the author had ever had. In 2001, Cohn-Bendit said that the accounts were invented for purposes of "verbal provocation", and that "I admit that what I wrote is unacceptable nowadays".
Joining the Greens
Cohn-Bendit became editor of Pflasterstrand at a time when many 'rebel' movements were petering out. The alternative magazine served as house organ to the anarchist-oriented Sponti-Szene in Frankfurt. There he began taking part in the environmental movement's civil agitation against nuclear energy and the expansion of the Frankfurt airport. When the Sponti movement officially accepted parliamentary democracy in 1984 he joined the German Green Party.
In 1988, he published, in French, Nous l'avons tant aimée, la révolution (In English: We Loved It So Much, the Revolution), a book full of nostalgia for the 1968 counter-culture, and announced his shift toward more centrist policies. In 1989, he became deputy mayor of Frankfurt, in charge of multicultural affairs. Immigrants made up some 30% of the city's population at that time. He also developed a more tolerant policy towards drug addicts.
As member of the European parliament
At the 1994 European Parliament election in Germany, Cohn-Bendit was elected to the European parliament, although he had been placed only eighth on the electoral list because of his support of military intervention in Bosnia. German Greens at the time did not support the resumption of German military intervention abroad.
At the European elections in 1999, he re-entered French politics as the lead candidate on the list of Les Verts, the French Green Party. He found considerable support in the French media, who often feature him, even when he does not represent or is at odds with the party. He reached 9.72% of votes, a score since then unequalled by the French Greens until 2009 (16.28% of the votes), when he was again the Green lead candidate.
In 2002, he became joint president of the Green group in the European Parliament, together with the Italian member Monica Frassoni.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Cohn-Bendit attracted controversy for his independent views. He was criticised from the political right for being a strong proponent of freer immigration, the legalisation of soft drugs, and the abandonment of nuclear power, and from the left for his pro-free market policies, his support for military interventions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and frequent collaboration with centrist personalities, including Bernard Kouchner and François Bayrou.
Cohn-Bendit's disregard for conventional European politics of left and right has made him more unpopular in France than in Germany. The French Green Party and the French left in general remain more attached to these distinctions, whereas in the German Green Party, the moderate Realo wing had already won over the hard-line Fundi wing, so that possible alliances with the Conservatives were no longer taboo, and third way policies under the center-left Gerhard Schröder government, such as Agenda 2010 and the Hartz I – IV laws, found considerable support in the corporate and financial sectors. Cohn-Bendit was also accused of not giving to the French party the percentage of his income that all MEPs and other elected members are expected to give to their party, even though the party had formally agreed to exempt him from this before his first election in France. This, alongside his pro-European attitude, led him to participate in the 2004 European elections in Germany and not France. He then became the highest-placed male candidate on the list and was elected again.
Support for European constitution
In 2003, during the Convention that prepared the text of the European constitution, Cohn-Bendit singled himself out by stating that the countries who would vote No should be compelled to hold a second referendum, and in case of a second No, should be expelled from the European Union.
In February 2004, in the context of the preparation of his electoral campaign and in the wider context of the final governmental drafting of the text, he led the foundation of the European Green Party in Rome. Fischer had directly participated to the drafting as German minister of foreign affairs, he was considered one of the candidates for the new role of "European minister of Foreign Affairs" evoked in the text, and his speech was the keynote of the event. Cohn-Bendit described the European Green Party as the first stone of European citizenship, but other commentators described this new structure as a mere adaptation of the former Federation of European Green Parties. Just as in the former structure, only delegates from national parties were allowed to vote, individual supporters were only entitled to receive information, and all other federations of European parties had to adapt their statuses later in 2004 to the new regulations from the European Commission about European political parties, in order to continue receive public funding. However, Cohn-Bendit as usual was early and energetic in presenting this innovation to the media.
During this congress in Rome he also confirmed his involvement in favour of free software. He publicly confessed not understanding much about computer terms, but supported license-free software as part of a stronger market economy.
In 2005, he took an active part in the campaign in favour of the European constitution during the French referendum. The treaty was considered by a large part of the left as a European version of globalisation, and Cohn-Bendit became loathed by treaty opponents as one of the symbols of centre-left leaders collaborating with neo-liberalism through international institutions, along with Pascal Lamy from the Socialist Party. He also singled himself out by appearing publicly with right-wing leaders, contrarily to the tactics adopted by the Green Party and the centre-left during that campaign.
2009 European elections
On 7 June 2009, the European Parliament elections gave Cohn-Bendit a major breakthrough in France. In spite of a conservative victory by Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP Party with 27.9% of the votes and an overall conservative victory all over Europe, Europe Écologie, the coalition founded by Cohn-Bendit, won over 16.28% of the votes, trailing the French Socialist Party led by Martine Aubry (16.48%) by only 0.2%. According to official French results, Cohn-Bendit's list thus became the third political force in France, even overtaking the Socialist Party in the Paris region, and, furthermore by adding the votes of an alternative green party also present in the election, giving greens a never yet experienced weight in French politics. His list featured Franco-Norwegian Magistrate Eva Joly, a specialist of anti-corruption struggles, and José Bové, a controversial trade unionist.
On 15 September 2010, Daniel Cohn-Bendit supported the new initiative Spinelli Group, which was founded to reinvigorate striving for federalisation of the European Union. Other prominent supporters are: Guy Verhofstadt, Jacques Delors, Joschka Fischer, Andrew Duff, Elmar Brok.
On 5 December 2008, members of the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, including Cohn-Bendit, visited the Czech Republic prior to the start of the Czech presidency of the European Union. They were invited by Czech President Václav Klaus to meet him at Prague Castle. Cohn-Bendit, as chairman of Green Group, brought a European flag and presented it to Klaus. Cohn-Bendit also said that he "did not care about Klaus' opinions on the Lisbon Treaty, that Klaus would simply have to sign it". Cohn-Bendit also told the Czechs not to interfere with passage of the EU's climate change package. This meeting was negatively commented in the Czech Republic as an undue interference in Czech affairs. Co-president of the Independence/Democracy parliamentary group, Nigel Farage, compared Cohn-Bendit's actions to a "German official from seventy years ago or a Soviet official from twenty years ago.
Cohn-Bendit, a vocal supporter of Hungary's green-urban-liberal LMP party, disparaged conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the new Hungarian media law in a January 2011 EP meeting. Cohn-Bendit said that the new law obliterates press freedom in Hungary and called Orbán a dictator. Orbán responded that despite the new media law already being in force for months, Cohn-Bendit's critical words were only friendly baby voices compared to the criticism in the Hungarian media.
Defense of paedophilia
Cohn-Bendit published a number of provocative statements regarding "sex with children" in the 1970s and early 1980s, notably in his 1975 book The Great Bazaar (Der grosse Basar) where he describes erotic encounters with five-year-olds in his time as a teacher in an anti-authoritarian kindergarten.
Since at least 2001, Cohn-Bendit has been accused of defending paedophilia during the 1970s. This controversy re-surfaced in 2013: as Cohn-Bendit received the Theodor Heuss Prize, there was a rally by child-protection activists. The president of Germany's Federal Constitutional Court cited the book as grounds for his refusal to give the speech at the awards ceremony. The affair triggered wider research into the pro-pedophilia activism which prevailed in the German Green Party (without direct involvement on the part of Cohn-Bendit) well into the 1980s.
An article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung uncovered several "repulsive" passages (abstoßende Texte) in Pflasterstrand, a leftist magazine for which Cohn-Bendit was, under press law, responsible. It cited a 1978 defence of Cohn-Bendit's of this editorial practice, as well as an appearance of Cohn-Bendit in a French television talk-show in 1982 where he described a five-year-old undressing herself as an "erotic game". Cohn-Bendit reacted to these allegations by claiming that his descriptions of erotic encounters with pre-pubescent girls were not based on true events but were merely intended as what he today calls "obnoxious provocation" aimed at questioning sexual morals at the time that "shouldn't have been written that way."
He is the co-author, with his brother Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, of Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative (Linksradikalismus: Gewaltkur gegen die Alterskrankheit des Kommunismus, 1968). This book combines an account of the events of May 1968 with a critique of Stalinism, the French Communist Party and the trade union establishment. The authors acknowledged their intellectual debt to the libertarian socialist group Socialisme ou Barbarie, especially Cornelius Castoriadis ("Pierre Chaulieu") and Claude Lefort.
- "Germany Yesterday and Today: A Discussion with Jean-Paul Sartre, Alice Schwarzer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit". Telos 41 (Fall 1979). New York: Telos Press.
- ZEIT Online Cohn-Bendit zieht sich 2014 aus Politik zurück
- "Prix de l'Initiative Europeenne" [European Initiative Prize]. Institut de Recherche et de Communication sur l'Europe. 22 June 2016. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
- Voßkuhle sagt Festrede für Cohn-Bendit ab Süddeutsche Zeitung 14 March 2013
- Cohn-Bendit, Daniel: Le Grand Bazar, 1975, 191 pp. P. Belfond, ISBN 2-7144-3010-4, ISBN 978-2-7144-3010-6
- Rüdiger Soldt, Eine Ehrung voller Entschuldigungen Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 21 April 2013
- Kate Connolly. Sixties hero revealed as kindergarten sex author | World news | The Observer. Guardian, 28 January 2001. Retrieved on 2012-06-15.
- Le Parisien. Leparisien.fr (18 March 2009). Retrieved on 2012-06-15.
- Booker, Christopher (14 December 2008). "Czech leader in shock after EU assault". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 8 January 2009.
- "Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner", National Platform for EU Research & Information, accessed January 2009
- Farage, Nigel (16 December 2008). "Outcome of the European Council on 11-12 December 2008 - French Presidency's term of office (debate)". European Parliament. Strasbourg. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
- 2010. évi CIV. törvény. Complex.hu. Retrieved on 2012-06-15.
- Index – Külföld – Orbán az EP-ben ismerteti a soros elnökség programját. Index.hu (19 January 2011). Retrieved on 2012-06-15.
- Jan Fleischhauer, Ann-Katrin Müller and René Pfister, "Paedophile Links Haunt Green Party," Spiegel (13 May 2013). Retrieved 20 November 2013.
- Paedophilia accusations haunt Green politician DW Akademie, 4 May 2013.
- Kate Connolly, "Green party in Germany to investigate backing for paedophiles in 80s" The Guardian (14 May 2013). Retrieved 20 November 2013.
- (in German) Christian Füller, "Cohn-Bendits pädophile Äußerungen - Danys Phantasien und Träume," Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (29 April 2013). Retrieved 20 November 2013.
- Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, trans. Arnold Pomerans (London: André Deutsch Ltd., 1968), p. 133.
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