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Europe

An Irishman for Europe

Irishman Pat Cox is the new President of the European Parliament. He was chosen leader by secret ballot on the third round of voting after the first-ever political campaign for office.

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A grateful Irish liberal democrat Pat Cox on his election

The European Parliament elected Pat Cox, a 49-year-old Irishman and leader of the European Liberal Democrat Group as its President for the next 30 months.

Mr Cox, a former economics lecturer, investigative journalist and television presenter, has been a member of the European Parliament since 1989. He replaces Frenchwoman Nicole Fontaine.

A front-runner in the election, Mr Cox edged out David Martin, a British Labour MEP from the Party of European Socialists and Jens-Peter Bonde, a Danish eurosceptic in a rather close vote.

In the final round, Mr Cox won an absolute majority of 298 votes against 237 for Mr Martin and 33 for Mr Bonde.

"A Parliament fit for Europe's Future"

In his acceptance speech, a delighted Mr Cox pledged to be a "stakeholder" President who would develop "a Parliament fit for Europe’s future".

"The successful completion of enlargement negotiations is the overarching political priority", he said. Referring to his background from a small party and small country of the smallest EU states, Mr Cox said his election "is a powerful message to a Europe about to enlarge".

Before his election, Mr Cox had said that his aim, was to inject more politics into the workings of the Parliament, "less voting, less technicality, more vitality".

Taking up that strand of promise in his acceptance speech, he also said that he would like to dedicate "the presidency to a political commitment". He said, "through policy leadership, through stressing our public purpose...we are building the democratic part of Europe’s future".

More transparency and effectiveness

At a practical level Mr Cox also promises to try to complete the reform process on a statute for MEPs, with a view to introducing more transparency, accountability and effectiveness.

The European Parliament is the only forum in Europe where European laws are deliberated in public.

Mr Cox says he also aims to introduce sweeping reforms in the European Parliament’s increased legislative responsibilities and its working methods.

He also said that the European Parliament has a duty to reconnect Europe to its citizens. The European Parliament should co-operate with national parliamentary committees to integrate European policies into domestic policy agendas, Mr Cox believes.

Bolstering EU enlargement

As President of the European Parliament, Mr Cox will direct all the activities of the EU’s only directly elected body. He will be heading a large bureaucracy and will have power over parliament’s agenda and its relations with other EU institutions, the member states and national parliaments.

One of the most important roles the European Parliament will play in the future will be in the area of EU enlargement. The Parliament must give its assent to the accession treaties by which the new member states, mainly from eastern and central Europe, are due to join the EU in 2004.

The Parliament with its 16 delegates will also play a vital role in the convention that meets in March to prepare the EU’s constitutional future.

A boost to the image of the European Parliament?

It’s hoped that the media-friendly and savvy Mr Cox will inject some dynamism into the standing of the directly elected assembly. The European Parliament remains little understood among common citizens.

Its proceedings are often marked by lacklustre debates. Mr Cox is expected to give the European Parliament a much stronger public image.

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