Udo Bullmann does not think much of political role models. “I’m a Lutheran Christian and don’t need any more gods,” says the SPD politician. Rather, the MEP is impressed by people who sometimes swim against the tide, who stand up and speak their minds, even if it does not necessarily bring them advantages. During his time with the Young Socialists in the 1980s, he was thus always on the side of the undogmatic. “Always anti-authoritarian,” Bullmann says, “giving strength to those who need it.”
Some time has passed since his Young Socialist days. Still, nothing has changed in his understanding of politics. “Bottom-up and close to the people,” is how he describes his style. The 66-year-old has now been sitting in the European Parliament for almost 25 years and acts according to this principle.
‘The tasks of the future await in Europe’
When Bullmann speaks of the EU, he affectionately calls it a “project.” A project that has fascinated him today, as it has throughout his life. Born in Giessen, Germany, Bullmann studied political science, sociology, public law and economics at the University of Giessen after leaving school. After graduating in 1982, Bullmann earned his doctorate and became Professor of European studies. In 1999, he decided to become an active politician. “It was clear to me, it’s going to Europe,” Bullmann says, “that’s where the tasks of the future are waiting, and the creative freedom as a politician is the greatest.”
In his now 24 years in Brussels, Bullmann has taken on various roles in Parliament, sat on various committees and was Chairman of the S&D Group in Parliament from 2018 to 2019. At the core, then as now, he was concerned with enabling social justice and fighting inequalities, the politician says. For a better future. True to his favorite quote by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “One should not want to foresee the future, but make it possible.”
Bullmann has been Chairman of the Human Rights Committee since the beginning of the year. His predecessor, Maria Arena of Belgium, stepped down from the position in January. Her name kept coming up in connection with the recent corruption scandal in the European Parliament. Bullmann’s conditions for succeeding her: “Everything must be cleared up. The Committee must be there for those whose human rights are at risk.”
Criticism of Poland and Hungary
In his Committee work, he is intensively involved in exchanges with opposition politicians and NGO representatives from third countries. It is important, he says, that the EU tries to improve human rights without using imperialistic methods. Without the global South feeling patronized. “By also looking at ourselves, for example,” Bullmann says, “checking our trade agreements to see if we are doing enough to improve human rights in the respective country.”
The SPD politician also criticizes the human rights situation in Europe. Udo Bullmann points to freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Poland and Hungary. “In both cases, we must not only find words but also show reactions,” Bullmann says. If the two states were not EU members today, Bullmann would doubt they could join the Union at present.
The experienced politician is enthusiastic about many countries and cultures. That is why he likes living and working in the Belgian capital. “Brussels is an open, European city. A place for many different cultures, even if Strasbourg is more picturesque from the cityscape.” When he is not working, he spends a lot of time with his wife and three children. And then, of course, there is SV Werder Bremen in the SPD politician’s life. Dayan Djajadisastra