The European Parliament has opened an investigation against Assita Kanko (N-VA), who is suspected of psychologically intimidating her employees. In parliament and also within N-VA, annoyance about her behavior has arisen for some time. ‘This was one accident waiting to happen.’
In November 2022, a former Kanko employee filed a complaint against the MEP for ‘psychological harassment’, which was declared admissible after an initial investigation by the European Parliament. Politics was able to view those documents, and spoke to three ex-employees, two MEPs and someone closely involved in the file. They all speak of a ‘culture of fear’ in Kanko’s office. “Every demand had to be met immediately,” testifies a former employee Politics. “But a day later she had already changed her mind and we had to go back to the initial plan.”
A high workload and irregular hours are not exceptional in politics. But at Kanko went the requirements are a step too far, say the ex-employees. Kanko would also have recruited her employees to babysit her children and run errands. “Hold my handbag” and “Could you drive me to the dry cleaner” are, according to The last news a selection of Kanko’s personal requests.
In the corridors of the European Parliament reacted few people were surprised this morning when they heard the news. “This was one accident waiting to happen”, a well-informed MEP describes it. In recent years, several employees of Kanko have left “crying”. The writing on the wall is also the turnover of employees in her office. Since taking office in parliament in 2019, Kanko has had thirteen employees. A member of the European Parliament usually has a maximum of three employees on the payroll at the same time.
Kanko could also behave antisocially towards other MEPs, journalists or interlocutors, according to some of them. “When you first meet her, she seems likeable, but after a few weeks you get really annoyed.” She is described as having strong convictions, but who is also not open to listening to someone else’s. While Belgian MEPs sometimes drink coffee after work across party boundaries, they searched they don’t really like that togetherness.
‘Guilt of others’
Within N-VA there is also dissatisfaction with her behavior. However, she was still in 2018 introduced as the new leader of the party. Kanko, who took her first political steps with the French-speaking liberal party MR, made the switch to the Flemish nationalists in 2018. She and Darya Safai agreed with the party’s migration positions, among other things, they told this newspaper. Together with Theo Francken, former State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, she regularly propagated these views.
Since 2019, Kanko has been one of the Vice-Presidents of the Conservatives in the European Parliament. She sits on committees on migration and women’s rights, but mainly attracted attention because of her strong statements about woke on social media. But with every tweet, annoyance from more moderate N-VA members also grew.
Two years ago, Kanko was also confronted by party members about her behavior towards employees. When no solution was forthcoming, the complaints also ended up with the party leadership. He would have called her on the carpet several times. Kanko himself would have brushed off the complaints as “the fault of others”.
Due to the confidentiality of their HR policy, the N-VA party leadership cannot confirm whether discussions have taken place. However, Kanko would have informed the party itself about the complaint in the European Parliament. Kanko herself confirms that there is a complaint against her, but says that she cannot comment on the contents of the file as long as the procedure is ongoing. “I have provided all my arguments and rebuttals and I think I am strong,” she says of the harassment complaint. According to Kanko, a second complaint, which the same employee would have filed against his dismissal, has since been dropped.
The European Parliament itself cannot comment on the procedure while it is running. Only when the investigation shows that Kanko psychologically intimidated her employee will the European president communicate about her sanction.
Earlier this year, this happened to two other MEPs, including the Spanish socialist Mónica Silvana González. The Luxembourg Democrat Monica Semedo was also found guilty for the fourth time in April this year of the psychological harassment of an employee. Although parliament wants to take complaints about psychological harassment more seriously, it was limited to a temporary financial punishment for both.