Monday, July 20, 2009

NEWS - European Union Assembly elects ex-Polish Prime Minister as its President

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (Photo/Christian Lutz)

Former Prime Minister of Poland and European Parliament Member, Jerzy Buzek was elected the 28th President of The European Parliament, making the pro-democracy activist the first easterner from a former Communist country to head a major EU institution.

The European parliament is the only multinational legislature in the world.

A leading member of the Solidarity trade union that sank Communism in Poland in the late 1980s, Buzek won 555 of the 644 valid votes cast - a first-ballot majority at the inaugural session of the new 736-member EU assembly. His nearest opponent, Swedish Green Party member Eva-Britt Svenson, received 89 votes.

Many likened Buzek's election to a final healing of Europe's old East-West division - as did Buzek.
"Once upon a time I hoped to be a member of the Polish parliament, in a free Poland," the center-right politician said. "Today I have become the president of the European Parliament, something I could never have dreamed of."

Buzek, 69, will lead for two-and-a-half years. A socialist (still unnamed) will succeed him for the following two-and-a-half years, under a tradeoff between the left and the right in the EU assembly.

Buzek's election reflects conservative gains in the 27 EU countries and comes as the EU is suffering from a deep crisis of confidence. The June 4-7 EU elections saw a record low turnout of under 44 percent, reflecting widespread disenchantment with the bloc, especially its expansion plans.

Nigel Farage of Britain's UK Independence Party criticized the inaugural session, which opened with the hymn 'Ode to Joy' from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. "You are pushing ahead with all the trappings of statehood," he told the ex-premier. He cautioned him not "to turn the EU into the union you fought so hard against" in Communist Poland.

Jerzy Buzek was born in what is now Smilovice in the Zaolzie region of Silesia, now in the Czech Republic. At the time of his birth, it was officially named Smilowitz and was part of Landkreis Teschen of Germany. He was born into the prominent Buzek family, which participated in Polish politics in the Second Polish Republic during the interbellum. The family was part of the Polish community in Zaolzie. After World War II, his family moved to Chorzów. He is a Protestant.

After the demise of Communism, Buzek was a right-wing premier in Poland from 1997-2001. He is credited with bringing critical reforms to the health and pension systems and remains well-regarded by many Poles.

He entered the European Parliament in 2004 after Poland, seven other east European nations, Malta and Cyprus joined the bloc that year.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski hailed his appointment Tuesday as a "symbolic overcoming of the divisions between the old and new countries" of the European Union.