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Video by Yuka ROYER


Latest update : 2009-07-14

Polish ex-Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was elected president of the European Parliament on Tuesday, making him the first leader from a former Soviet bloc country to hold one of the European Union's top posts.

REUTERS - The European Parliament elected ex-Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek as its president on Tuesday, making him the first leader from a former Soviet bloc country to hold one the European Union's top posts.

Buzek, 69, won the parliament's support at its first session since an election in June at which his centre-right allies emerged as the strongest force but voters showed their discontent with EU leaders with a record-low turnout.

Although the post is largely ceremonial, his appointment is a symbolic gesture to the new EU member states from eastern and central Europe which often complain their views are not heard by the 27-nation Union's traditional powers.

"I see my election as a sign to these countries. I also regard it as a tribute to millions of citizens of our countries who did not bow to a hostile system," Buzek told the 736-member assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.

"There is no you and us. This is now our shared Europe," he said, celebrating the enlargement of the EU which brought in 10 new member states in 2004 and two more in 2007, most of them from central and eastern Europe.

Buzek said in a brief speech before the vote, in which he won 555 of the votes cast, that his priority would be combating Europe's economic crisis.

He also said it was important for the parliament to gain the trust of the nearly 500 million Europeans.

"We have to realise we are in crisis now. Europeans are expecting a resolution of this problem. And we also have to remember we should improve the work of the European Parliament," Buzek said.

Challenges ahead

The assembly's priorities include tightening regulation of the financial system to help prevent another global economic crisis and helping the EU agree a common position for talks in Copenhagen on a new global deal to limit harmful emissions.

Its approval is also needed for the EU's annual budget and for the appointment of a new European Commission, whose five-year term expires in November.

EU leaders have backed Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term as European Commission president but his foes in the assembly have put off an approval vote until at least September.

A former member of the Solidarity trade union that ended Communist rule in Poland in 1989, Buzek is the first leader from eastern Europe to head one of the EU's three big institutions.

The European Parliament shares powers with the executive European Commission, a powerful regulatory body, and the Council of EU heads of state and government.

Its main function, shared with the other institutions, is drafting and passing laws. These powers will grow if the Lisbon treaty, intended to overhaul EU institutions and streamline decision making in the Union, is passed by all member states.

Buzek was prime minister of a coalition government in Poland from 1997-2001 and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004, shortly after Poland joined the EU.

He was elected parliament's president for a term of 2-1/2 years under a deal between parliamentary groups which 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