Buzek election hailed as 'historic'
Polish centre-right MEP Jerzy Buzek was elected as president of the European parliament on Tuesday (14 July) following a secret ballot held in a packed Strasbourg plenary chamber.
The election of a deputy from a former communist country which joined the European Union just five years ago was hailed by politicians across the political divide as an historic event.
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Speaking of how he once dreamed of a Poland free from communism, Mr Buzek said: "Today I have been elected president of the European parliament, that's a sign of how things can change."
"I wish to work with all of you regardless of your political beliefs," he told MEPs, adding that climate change, the economic crisis, and bringing citizens closer to the European project would be among his main priorities.
Mr Buzek – a scientist by training - was elected to the EU Parliament in 2004 and subsequently served on the industry, energy and research committees.
Between 1997-2001 he served as Polish prime minister and was greatly involved in steering the country towards joining the EU.
His membership of the Solidarity movement that overthrew communism in the country in the 1980s was also singled out for much praise by MEPs aware of the symbolic importance Mr Buzek's election.
"We Poles know that even the unthinkable can be possible if you really want it," former commissioner Danuta Hubner who was recently elected as an MEP told EUobserver.
Asked how she was handling the changeover to her new job, she said so far there seemed to be far more waiting around involved. "I hope that will change," she added.
After the vote that saw Mr Buzek win 555 of the 644 valid votes cast, party leaders signalled their broad support for the new president.
"Every member of the parliament will be delighted that the parliament is no longer split between east and west," said leader of the centre-right European Peoples' Party Joseph Daul, to which Mr Buzek belongs.
"I feel that your election of the European parliament is a historical moment, it is 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall," said Socialist leader Martin Schulz whose party is the second largest in the parliament.
In a press conference before the vote, co-president of the Greens, Mr Daniel Cohn-Bendit, also said he supported Mr Buzek as the new president, but on an individual basis rather than because of any party political agreement.
A recent three-way deal struck between the Socialists, the EPP and the Liberals whereby Mr Buzek would take the post for the first 2.5 years of the 5-year term, followed by Mr Schulz for the second 2.5 years meant Tuesday's vote was little more than a formality.
The only other candidate who ran for the post of president was far-left Swedish MEP Eva- Britt Svensson who won 89 votes. Former Liberal leader Graham Watson pulled out last week as a result of the three-way deal.
The pre-determined nature of the vote threatened to leave the atmosphere in the chamber a little flat but an extra buzz was generated when a loud noise emanated from the chamber's ceiling shortly before the vote was due to take place, startling MEPs.
Outgoing parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering later informed the chamber that the noise came from the room's ventilators who were struggling to deal with the higher than normal attendance at the monthly meeting.
The announcement was met by robust applause by MEPs who are frequently criticised over their poor attendance records.
However the loudest clapping was reserved for Mr Poettering as he handed over the reins to Mr Buzek.
"On behalf of all our colleagues, I would like to thank you for the respect you have won our house and for your political style," said Mr Buzek, presenting Mr Poettering with a statue of St Barbara – the patron saint of miners - made out of coal from his region of Poland.