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Europe

Jerzy Buzek: breaking ground at the European Parliament

©

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2009-07-14

Former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek entered the annals of EU history when he became the first politician from a former Soviet bloc country to hold the coveted post as head of the European Parliament.

Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, made history Tuesday when he became the first politician from the former Soviet bloc to be elected president of the European Parliament. Buzek won the support of the new parliament during its inaugural session, after his centre-right backers emerged as the strongest force in the 736-seat assembly.

  

The 69-year-old Polish conservative politician won the endorsement of the parliament, winning 555 votes in a first ballot. Underscoring the symbolic significance of his election 20 years after the collapse of communism in Poland, Buzek said it was a “signal” to Eastern European countries and a “tribute to millions of citizens of our countries who did not bow to a hostile system."

 

Buzek was a member of the Solidarity trade union that ended Communist rule in Poland in 1989.

 

Addressing parliament in the French city of Strasbourg Tuesday, Buzek said it was “a symbolic day" as “a representative from a country of central and eastern Europe has become, thanks to your will, president of the European Parliament.”

 

Although the post is largely ceremonial, it carries immense prestige and represents a symbolic victory for Poland since Warsaw has been lobbying for years for one of its nationals to be elected to the position.

 

 

From Solidarity to European Parliament

 

A chemical engineer by training, Buzek first became involved in politics in the early ‘80s when he joined the democratic, anti-Communist movements in Poland. He took an active part in the underground Solidarity trade union and was rewarded with a senior position after the collapse of Communism in Poland.

 

In Oct. 1997, Buzek was elected Poland’s prime minister, a post he held for four years despite widespread political instability in the post-Communist era.

 

He pushed through key reforms in the fields of education, healthcare, pension schemes, and administrative divisions as Poland geared up to meet the European Union’s membership access criteria. But he lost the 2001 parliamentary elections and subsequently stepped back from Polish politics.

 

Buzek’s political career was revived 1,000 kilometres away from his native Silesia when he was elected to the European Parliament in June 2004, a month after Poland finally joined the EU.

 

His “Civic Platform” party became a member of the transnational European People’s Party. In 2006, Buzek was nominated European parliament member of the year in the category of scientific research and technology.

 

Since his triumphal reelection in June 2009, where he received 42% of votes in his constituency, the veteran Polish europhile had been widely tipped to head the European Parliament.

 

Buzek will have little time to celebrate his election as European lawmakers face tough decisions in the coming weeks, including the contested endorsement of EU Commission head Manuel Barroso and persistent uncertainties over the Lisbon Treaty.

 

He will serve a two-and-a-half year term under a deal among parliamentary groups that will allow a Socialist candidate to hold the post for the second half of the parliament's five-year mandate.

 

Date created : 2009-07-14

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