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European politics

July 14, 2009

The European Parliament has elected former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek as its new president, making him the first politician from the former communist bloc to hold one of the European Union's top posts.

Former Polish president and EU parliament chief Jerzy Buzek
Buzek's appointment is largely seen as a symbolic gesture to the new EU member statesImage: AP

The election of the 69-year-old conservative Polish politician came at the first session of the recently-elected parliament since elections in June which produced a clear victory for center-right parties across Europe.

Buzek, who has been a member of the European Parliament for five years and sits on the committee for industry, research and energy, is the parliament's first president from the formerly communist east.

His appointment is reported to be a symbolic gesture to the EU's new member states from eastern and central Europe.

Thousands of Poles celebrate Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004
Thousands celebrated Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004Image: dpa

"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.

In 2004, the EU expanded to include 10 new member states. Three years later, two more were added, most of them from central and eastern Europe.

First EU Parliament chief from eastern Europe

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.

Buzek was prime minister of Poland between 1997 and 2001, when he presided over reforms to the country's pensions, health sector, education system and public administration.

Those reforms were believed to have been unpopular among many voters, however Buzek came through his term to become the first Polish prime minister to serve a full term in the country's post-communist era.

It was during Buzek's years in office that Poland joined NATO, and under his leadership, Poland moved closer to eventual membership of the European Union, which it attained in 2004. Buzek is widely considered a reconciliatory figure and not partial to power politics.

On Monday, Buzek stressed that it was important for the parliament to gain the trust of the nearly 500 million Europeans.

"We have to realize 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," he said.

Long list of priorities

Buzek's election came as no surprise, since he had the declared backing of the Christian Democrats, the Socialists and the Liberals who together hold 533 of the 736 seats in the parliament. In the event, he won 555 votes.

Buzek was born in 1940 in the town of Smilovice, which is now part of the Czech Republic. He replaces German Hans Gert Poettering, who is stepping down after two and a half years in office.

Buzek will hold the post for two-and-a-half years - half of the parliament's five-year mandate.

Graphic showing plunging economic growth
The EU parliament has made it a priority to tighten financial regulation to help prevent another financial crisis

The EU Parliament'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 cap carbon emissions.

The Swedish presidency, which took over from the Czech Republic on 1 July, will lay out its priorities for the next six months on Wednesday.

The parliament will, however, postpone for at least two months a vote on reappointing European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, a veteran Portuguese conservative.

Editor: Neil King