When Sergey Lagodinsky, HKS ’03, recently gave the Guido Goldman Lecture on Germany at CES, the newly elected member of the European Parliament broached topics far beyond those of his adopted country to encompass Europe and the world at large.
A member of the Group of Greens/European Free Alliance coalition, Lagodinsky has made headlines for blocking two commissioner designates from joining the Parliament. Rovana Plumb of Romania and Laszlo Trocsanyi of Hungary were both blocked through a new procedure won by earlier Green Party members designed specifically to investigate conflicts of interest.
In a conversation before the public talk, Lagodinsky addressed the case of Tocsanyi, whose legal work is at the center of the conflict, stressing that the action was not about the candidate’s country of origin. “It is interesting to see that we had a candidate for whom it was natural to combine his own interests and the interests of his law company and of his affiliates with his position in public office,” he said. Although the deliberations, which were held in camera, were solely focused on the candidate, Lagodinsky did note wider implications. “It has everything to do with the nature of democracy, of the imperfect democracy that we have in some countries in Europe,” he said. “We have an erosion of political culture.”
The new MP’s global frame of reference comes naturally. Born and raised in Astrakhan, Russia, Lagodinsky briefly attended high school in suburban New York before his family ultimately emigrated to Germany, where he earned both a law degree and a doctorate in law, with research in human rights, anti-discrimination, and freedom of speech. In addition to practicing law, Lagodinsky has also served as the program director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, helping raise the political profile of this NGO.
His experience as an immigrant and a Jew ultimately informed his decision to go into politics. “You have a totally different perspective on Europe and on Germany, because you know what the alternatives are,” he said, speaking of himself. “You grew up in an alternative, and you are not very enthusiastic about that.”
Video: Challenges to Democracy in the European Union - The Guido Goldman Lecture on Germany
“I wanted to be part of German politics,” he said. “German society and German politics are still not sure what role they want to play in the world.” By running for office, he saw “a chance to be part of it, to join forces in looking for those new roles.”
He credits his time at Harvard Kennedy School with broadening his vision of governance. “Harvard opened up my perspectives,” he said, placing his education – and his work in international law – in a wider academic context and putting him in touch with “a great network of inspiring people, both students and teachers, and others – like Guido Goldman.” (Goldman, the co-founding director of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES), was instrumental in promoting the study of Germany and transatlantic relations at Harvard.)
Calling himself a “trans-Atlanticist,” Lagodinsky said, “My time here taught me that the United States is more than Wall Street. And it's also more than the White House.”
As a member of the EU Parliament, he has seen a sea change around such issues as climate change. Particularly in Northern and Western Europe, he noted, the climate is of growing concern. “People literally saw changes [in their environment],” he said. “But they were also confronted with climate change in their living rooms when their children and grandchildren demonstrated – and continue to demonstrate every Friday.
“I actually talked to some people who told me that they never thought they would vote Green,” he said. “But they voted Green because their children and grandchildren talked to them. There's this realization that it's about much more than today. It's about the future.”
Moving forward, Lagodinsky sees his party tackling an array of issues, many of them interconnected. “What is the labor market going to look like in a digital era?” he asked. “What will we give to people whose jobs are gone through digitalization or climate change or our new energy policies?”
A proactive approach, he says, is essential. “We should stop revolving around populists all the time,” he said. “We should start imagining the future as we want it.”