Martin sets sights on rival Cox in “landmark” debate

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.44, 29.11.01, p1
Publication Date 29/11/2001
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Date: 29/11/01

By Martin Banks

THE two main rivals in the race for the European Parliament's top job last night clashed publicly over who was better suited for the post.

Speaking at a landmark debate organised by European Voice and the Campaign for Parliament Reform, Socialist David Martin said only he

of the five candidates had the "hands-on" experience to succeed Nicole Fontaine as the assembly's president.

Scotsman Martin, a vice-president for 12 years, said his knowledge of the workings of the parliament was probably the one factor that set him apart from his main rival, Liberal Pat Cox.

Martin said: "I have worked years trying to improve Parliament's reputation. We have different approaches to this election but I would point out, for example, that I have negotiated with heads of state and have direct, hands-on experience of the job."

But Irishman Cox, 49, hit back, saying he was not making any "arrogant presumptions" in his campaign. "I come from the second-smallest state in the EU and one of the smaller political groups," he said. "In my case, I would say that small is good."

Nearly 300 people packed an auditorium at the European Parliament for last night's lively two-hour debate - the only televised event during the campaign and the first of its kind in the Parliament's history.

MEPs will cast their votes on 15 January. If no candidate wins an outright majority on the first ballot, the top two finishers will go to a run-off.

After last night's debate, Martin said members of Parliament's largest political group, the EPP, have told him they may break a pledge to back Cox if the contest goes to a second ballot.

Each of the candidates in last night's event was given three minutes to say where he stands on the key issues before being quizzed by a panel of journalists and MEPs.

Martin, 47, set the tone by saying it was time to "crack the cartel" that has run Parliament for too long. "The time for cosy deals is past," he said. "I want a voice for all MEPs. It's the only time to win respect for our institution in the wider world.

"The next two and a half years will be a watershed for the Parliament and I believe I am the best man for the job."

Campaign front runner Cox said, however, that he was the one to lead the parliament at a time when it faced "unparalleled" challenges.

Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde said: "This is the first time we have had a real election campaign for the presidency. I realise I have no chance of being elected. In the last round, it will be a choice between Pat Cox and David Martin."

He added he would "happily" make way if either agreed to full-scale Parliamentary reform.

And in a stinging broadside at Fontaine, he said: "I believe both Cox and Martin are far better than the president we have today. Instead of leading the assembly, she travels around meeting heads of state, kings and queens and presidents."

French deputy Gerard Onesta, a late entry into the race, said reform of the assembly was top of his agenda.

Onesta, official candidate of the Greens, said: "For me, being president means ensuring the assembly is respected for what it is: the voice of hundreds of millions of citizens."

A fifth candidate, Communist Francis Wurtz of the United Left Group, said the main job of the next president was to restore public confidence in EU institutions, adding: "I don't expect to win but I hope my views will be taken on board."

Report of the first televised debate between the candidates for the presidency of the European Parliament, 28 November 2001.

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