Harlem Désir

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Harlem Désir
Secretary of State for European Affairs
In office
9 April 2014 – 10 May 2017
Prime MinisterManuel Valls
Bernard Cazeneuve
Preceded byThierry Repentin
Succeeded byMarielle de Sarnez
11th First Secretary of the Socialist Party
In office
18 October 2012 – 9 April 2014
(acting: 16 September 2012 – 18 October 2012)
Preceded byMartine Aubry
Succeeded byJean-Christophe Cambadélis
In office
30 June 2011 – 16 October 2011
Preceded byMartine Aubry
Succeeded byMartine Aubry
Member of the European Parliament
In office
20 July 1999 – 8 April 2014[1][circular reference]
Succeeded byChristine Revault d'Allonnes-Bonnefoy
Personal details
Born (1959-11-25) 25 November 1959 (age 64)
Paris, France
Political party French:
Socialist Party
Party of European Socialists
Alma materUniversity of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne

Harlem Jean-Philippe Désir (French: [aʁ.lɛm de.ziʁ]; born 25 November 1959) is a French politician. First widely known as a community activist and as the first president of SOS Racisme in the 1980s, he subsequently entered politics in the 1990s, first in Génération Écologie then in the Socialist Party where he rose to the rank of First Secretary. He served as MEP from 1999 to 2014 and then served in the government of France as Secretary of State for European Affairs from 2014 to 2017. Since 2017, he has served as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Paris, Harlem Désir is the son of a Martinican father and an Alsatian mother.[2] He grew up in a housing project in Bagneux, north of Paris.[3]

Désir studied at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University, where he earned a license in philosophy in 1983. Also in 1983, he emerged as a leader from that year's social unrest in France and helped organize the March for Equality and Against Racism (the so-called March of the Beurs) that started in the immigrant neighborhoods outside Lyon and ended in Paris.[3]

SOS Racism[edit]

Harlem Desir in 1991

Harlem Désir was briefly active in the JCR, the youth organization of the Revolutionary Communist League.[4] Désir was the first president of the French anti-racist organisation SOS Racisme between 1984 and 1992. Under his leadership, the organization grew significantly in membership and acquired significant influence in French public life.[5] Accused of misusing public assets from 1986 to 1987, he was sentenced to an 18 months suspended sentence and a 30,000 francs fine in 1998.[6]

Political career[edit]

Member of the European Parliament, 1999–2014[edit]

Désir first became a Member of the European Parliament following the 1999 European elections. A member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, he was re-elected in 2004 and 2009.

Harlem Désir in 2010.

In his first parliamentary term from 1999 until 2004, Désir served on the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy. From 2004 to 2009, he was a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. In this capacity, he served as the parliament's rapporteur on the 2008 Temporary Agency Work Directive.[7] In his last term, he joined the Committee on International Trade. He also served as deputy chairman of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group.[8]

In addition to his committee assignments, Désir was a member of the parliament's delegations for relations with India (2009–2014), the United States (2002–2004) and South Africa (1999–2002). From 2002 to 2004, he also served on the parliament's delegation to the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the Agreement between the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Union (ACP-EU).

Following the 2004 European elections, Désir became one of the vice-chairpersons of a newly established European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI), alongside Claude Moraes, Saïd El Khadraoui, Emine Bozkurt, Cem Özdemir and Lívia Járóka.[9] He was also a member of the Capital Tax, Fiscal Systems and Globalisation Intergroup of the European Parliament, to whom was presented Denis Robert and Ernest Backes's book, Revelation$, in March 2001.[10]

Désir is considered an ardent pro-European. He fought unsuccessfully in 2005 to convince the Socialist Party to back a new European constitutional treaty.[11]

Ahead of the 2014 European elections, Désir was appointed to head the Socialist Party's list for Ile-de-France.[12] Following his resignation from the European Parliament, he was replaced by Christine Revault d'Allonnes Bonnefoy.

Leader of the Socialist Party, 2012–2014[edit]

In the 2011 Socialist Party presidential primary, Désir endorsed the campaign of Martine Aubry.

On 30 June 2011, he was the delegate first secretary of the Socialist Party during the Martine Aubry bid for the Socialist Party primary, who started her campaign for presidential election of 2012 on 28 June 2011. After the resignation of Aubry on 16 September 2012, he again became First Secretary of the Socialist Party by interim.[13]

Endorsed by Martine Aubry and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault before the 2012 Party Congress,[14] he was elected First Secretary of the party on 18 October 2012,[15] fending off competition for the post from another veteran who has also been convicted of financial misconduct, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis.[11] He became the first black person to lead a major European political party. At the time of his election, he had never been a minister or member of the national parliament.[11]

Désir remained head of the party until April 2014, when he stood down after being appointed State Secretary for European Affairs. He was replaced by Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. His resignation was partly explained with his attitude during the Dibrani case.[16][17]

Minister for European Affairs, 2014–2017[edit]

On 9 April 2014, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls appointed him Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. In February 2015, he was appointed chairman of the General Affairs Council of the Party of European Socialists, a position he held until leaving office.[18]

Shortly after taking office, Désir and his Italian counterpart, Sandro Gozi, set out a list of priorities for the time after the 2014 European elections, saying the new European Commission should grant maximum flexibility within existing EU budget rules to countries undertaking growth-promoting investments and structural economic reforms. Désir also proposed creating a European savings plan to mobilize citizens' savings to invest in small business and priority infrastructure projects such as extending high-speed broadband and the transition to renewable energy.[19]

On the sidelines of an informal U.N. General Assembly meeting on the rising threat of antisemitism in January 2015, Désir joined his German counterpart Michael Roth in appealing for U.N. member states to work together on an international legal framework that would make social network providers share responsibility for the use of their platforms to spread messages promoting violence; the French call for a radical shift in the way governments treat social networking companies such as Facebook and Twitter came two weeks after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.[20]

Ahead of the Socialist Party's 2017 primaries, Désir endorsed Valls as the party's candidate for the presidential election later that year.[21]

Later career[edit]

Désir was appointed Representative on Freedom of the Media by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe for a term of three years beginning 18 July 2017.[22] In 2019 he caused controversy in Albania by supporting a controversial package of law changes proposed by Albania strongman Premier Edi Rama. In June 2020, Azerbaijan blocked a package of preliminary renewal mandates for all top OSCE officials, including Désir, and issued a letter of protest over Désir's pending reappointment in particular.[23] Tajikistan subsequently joined in opposing the renewal.[24]

In 2021, Désir became the Senior Vice President, Europe of the International Rescue Committee.[25]

Since 2023, Désir has been part of the Centre for European Policy Studies/Heinrich Böll Foundation High-Level Group on Bolstering EU Democracy, chaired by Kalypso Nicolaïdis.[26]

Personal life[edit]

Désir is a Roman Catholic.[3]

He married, in 1985, Marianne Sauterey, secretary of the socialist group in the National Assembly, from whom he divorced in 1988. He then had two children with the journalist Anna Angeli.[27] daughter of Claude Angeli, leader of Le Canard enchaîné.[28]

When he joined the government in 2014, he declared assets of €48,442.



  1. ^ fr:Harlem Désir
  2. ^ Direction du PS: Harlem Désir, un successeur consensuel pour Martine Aubry Nouvel Observateur 12 September 2012. "Né en 1959 d'un père antillais et d'une mère alsacienne, Harlem Désir grandit à Bagneux, en banlieue parisienne et étudie la philosophie."
  3. ^ a b c Craig S. Smith (9 November 2005), Inside French Housing Project, Feelings of Being the Outsiders New York Times.
  4. ^ "Harlem Désir, une star de l'antiracisme devenue bon élève du PS". Le Monde. 19 September 2012..
  5. ^ SOS Racisme, une association éternellement liée à Israël?, Cinquième Colonne, 7 April 2016.
  6. ^ Les hommes politiques condamnés et réélus, L'Express, 22 June 2009.
  7. ^ Zoe Casey (22 October 2008), Equal rights approved for temporary workers European Voice.
  8. ^ Martin Banks (24 November 2004), French Left ‘holds key’ to EU constitution European Voice.
  9. ^ Helen Morris (9 November 2004), Cross-party support moves racism agenda European Voice.
  10. ^ "Tobin Tax Call" (PDF). Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  11. ^ a b c Brian Love (12 September 2012), Veteran Socialist Desir set to lead France's ruling party Reuters.
  12. ^ Toby Vogel (20 November 2013), Socialist selection European Voice.
  13. ^ Scott Sayare (12 September 2012), France: New Leader Is Named for the Socialist Party New York Times.
  14. ^ Brian Love, "Veteran Socialist Desir set to lead France's ruling party", Reuters, 12 September 2012.
  15. ^ Joseph Bamat: Harlem Désir, France's first black president? France24, 19 October 2012.
  16. ^ Gouvernement Valls : Harlem Désir nommé secrétaire d'État aux Affaires européennes - "Un froid avec l'Élysée" Archived 16 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine, on rtl.fr. Accessed on 16 April 2014.
  17. ^ Hollande « déçu » par Désir, on lemonde.fr. Accessed on 16 April 2014.
  18. ^ Progressive European ministers call for a Europe with strong social rights
  19. ^ Michelle Martin (19 Jun 2014), Merkel praises Danish PM, says euro outsider can head EU Council Reuters.
  20. ^ Louis Charbonneau (22 January 2015), Social networks must help stamp out promotion of violence: France Reuters.
  21. ^ Grégoire Poussielgue and Pierre-Alain Furbury (15 December 2016), Primaire du PS : Valls engrange les soutiens Les Échos.
  22. ^ "Harlem Désir". OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  23. ^ Pete Cobus (12 July 2020), Press Watchdogs Urge Azerbaijan, Tajikistan to Unblock OSCE Appointment Voice of America.
  24. ^ Alexandra Brzozowski (20 July 2020), OSCE facing leadership crisis Euractiv.
  25. ^ Harlem Désir joins the International Rescue Committee as Senior Vice President, Europe (26 July 2021). "Harlem Désir joins the International Rescue Committee as Senior Vice President, Europe | International Rescue Committee (IRC)". Retrieved 27 September 2022.
  26. ^ CEPS-SWP High-Level Group on bolstering EU Democracy Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), press release of 1 May 2023.
  27. ^ Le Tout-Politique 2022
  28. ^ Claude Angeli, le Canard et la plume
  29. ^ a b c "Harlem Désir | OSCE". www.osce.org. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  30. ^ Laudatio by Minister of State Michael Roth at the presentation of the Order of Merit to Harlem Désir Federal Foreign Office, press release of 3 May 2018

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Socialist Party
Succeeded by
Preceded by National Secretary for the Coordination of the Socialist Party
Succeeded by
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Position created
President of SOS Racism
Succeeded by