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Europe

Cox Awarded Charlemagne Prize

Pat Cox, the outgoing European Parliament president, has been awarded Germany's prestigious Charlemagne prize for his efforts to unite Europe -- or what the Irishman describes as "the political cause of my life."

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Cox has devoted his political life to the European cause.

The jury awarding the Charlemagne prize has described Cox as a "dynamic full-blooded European" and as one who stands for a democratic Europe unlike any other. The prize is awarded annually in recognition of personal contributions to European unity.

When the 51-year-old Irishman collected the distinguished Charlemagne prize in Germany's historic city of Aachen on Thursday, he spoke of the crowning achievement that was EU enlargement on May 1. Now that the historic date has passed, he said it is up to all EU citizens to discover and realize Europe's potential. Cox also spoke of the need to adopt a strong, yet simple constitution for the EU.

Aiming higher

Although Cox is the outgoing president of the European Parliament, many EU observers expect that he'll return to European politics, possible for an even higher post.

It's no secret that the outspoken Cox, a former TV journalist and father of six, is nursing ambitions to succeed European Commission president Romano Prodi later this year.

"Serving as an MEP for 15 years and as president for almost two and half years has been the great experience of my life," Cox said during his emotional farewell from the European Parliament earlier this month.

From Dublin to Brussels

Born in Dublin on November 28, 1952 as the son of a watchmaker, Cox grew up in Limerick. He graduated with a degree in economics at Trinity College in Dublin and lectured in the subject at the University of Limerick.

Cox switched to journalism and worked for Irish broadcaster RTE from 1982 to 1986, hosting current affairs programs including the popular "Today Tonight."

He began his political career in 1985 when he joined the Progressive Democrats in Ireland and became the party's general secretary. He gradually began to distance himself from Irish politics following differences with the party and began to focus on the EU instead after he joined the European Liberal Democrats in 1989 as a liberal MEP for Munster in southern Ireland.

Cox was elected president of the European Parliament in January 2002. He has since transformed the public image of the assembly with his media savvy and his catchy "sound bite" presidential style that is attributed to his media background.

Fraud and perks scandal cast shadow

But Cox's commitment to making the European Parliament more transparent suffered a serious setback in March this year. Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin went to the press with fraud allegations, including accusations that hundreds of his colleagues were pocketing allowances for parliamentary sessions they had not attended.

Cox promised an investigation to clear up the matter. Earlier this month he acknowledged that the most disappointing part of his presidency was failing to overhaul the parliament's pay and perks system, which he admitted continues to give the assembly a bad name.

A passionate believer in united Europe

Cox, a passionate supporter of European expansion and unity, has listed the smooth expansion of the EU by ten new states as one of his major achievements during his term as president.

During the expansion celebrations in Dublin in early May, Cox defended his strong belief in a common European foreign and defense policy, saying it was vital to prevent bloody ethnic conflicts and massacres such as the one that took place in Srebrenica, Bosnia in 1995.

"Any person with a conscience who saw what happened and had neither the resolve nor the capacity to act when the hurricanes of hatred reaped 7,000 lives in Srebrenica knows that this shameful inability (to act) cannot go on," he said.

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