Repasi speaks fluent Dutch, sometimes with a charming accent. He calls himself ‘professaaah’. He has already lived for years in Rijswijk with his family and has a Polish wife. When he was just sixteen, he was already a member of the Young Social Democrats in the province of Baden-Württemberg. So Repasi already had a flying start on his way to a long political career.
Things did briefly look like they may turn out differently. “It was never really my plan to move to the Netherlands, but during my promotion in Heidelberg I carried out research in the library at the Peace Palace in the Hague. The librarian slid her 06 number in a book I borrowed. That is now my wife,” he says with a laugh.
He then chose law for the way ahead. Since 2014, Repasi has been associated with the Erasmus School of Law, where he had a chair in public and private interest while specialising in European law. He is also the President of the Faculty Council.
Although you seemed to drift away from politics somewhat, you are now a brand-new MEP. What’s the story behind that?
“I’ve always stayed actively involved with the Social Democrats, and in Germany candidates are always linked to other sitting part members in parliament. That is because of the system of federation representation, where Germans from a certain region are put in the same group in the party. The idea behind this is that representation works better. This is how I became Evelyne Gebhardt’s replacement, as she also comes from my region in Germany. Gebhardt is now moving on, so a place became free. I obviously had my doubts because my young children are living in the Netherlands and maybe I could not stay in my position as professor, but in the end I could not let the opportunity pass me by.”
Will you still be working at Erasmus University now you are an MEP?
“Yes, I will carry on working for the University for one day a week. I have a ‘Public and private interests’ chair there. I will continue to tutor bachelor, master and PhD students. I think I can successfully combine my job in Brussels with the position in Rotterdam. I work two full weeks in Brussels, then a full week in Strasbourg, then a week at home. During the week at home, I will work a full week for Erasmus. This is even if there is often some intermingling. Sometimes in the mornings and the evenings I may be working on research or educational assignments.”
Does your knowledge of European law help you as an MEP?
“Much of what is discussed in the parliament concerns laws and regulations. These matters are debated exhaustively. If there is a mandate for a law, that does not yet mean the law will also actually come into force. First, all sorts of legal experts get down to work and see if the legal arguments hold water. It may also be the case that the Commission or the Council decides that something will not legally get through because they do not support a political position. Then they say that your idea is very nice, but they cannot do anything with it and that’s the end of the debate. End of the debate. My knowledge and experience mean I can already anticipate these steps. As a jurist with knowledge of European law, I know all too well what is or not allowed, meaning I can identify new ways forward more quickly.’
What will be your main focus in Brussels?
“I will particularly be occupied with the European digital market and financial markets and what can or could happen or otherwise. At present, European citizens are tracked on the conveyor belt by large companies such as Google and Meta, Facebook’s parent company. The companies can then give targeted adds or personalised advertisements a platform based on where you are or what you have said. We do not believe this should be possible and that there should be better rules to protect the citizen. Consumers should have a much greater say about all this. I am also looking at the application of laws and rules already in place, and I want to ensure that laws can also effectively be enforced.
What will your students notice from your new job?
“I hope to be able to share the things I learn in Brussels with the Erasmus students. And I want to use my position to make sure I help students and researchers at Erasmus on their way. I want to offer law students research internships at the parliament so they can experience first-hand what it is like to work for Europe. I want to make the distance between Rotterdam and Brussels shorter.”