|Author (Person)||Harding, Gareth|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.8, No.2, 17.01.02, p9|
AFTER seven hours of voting and more than the usual amount of melodrama, confusion and occasional suspense, MEPs elected their new boss on Tuesday.
Irish Liberal Pat Cox is certainly not your average European Parliament President - the 49-year-old Munster man comes from a small party and a small country, but he won a big battle in seeing off Socialist contender David Martin and three other wannabes in Strasbourg.
The poll was the first time presidential candidates have been allowed to make last-minute pleas to their 626-strong electorate and Martin was so astonished by this triumph of democracy that he declared: 'Without a vote having been cast we already know the winner of this presidency race. The winner is the European Parliament.'
The election was certainly closely contested, but the oratory was rarely Churchillian. At one point during his speech, Martin made a passionate plea for 'an end to the artificial distinction in the budget between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure' - hardly the sort of snappy sound bite likely to make it onto the evening news.
Green candidate Gérard Onesta made an attempt to liven things up, stating: 'We ought to have such exciting business to do here that we have more colleagues on the floor than interpreters in the booths.'
But if truth be told, the Frenchman's white suit was more riveting than his speech.
There was a general recognition from all MEPs that Parliament's way of doing business desperately needs to change. 'This institution has an image problem,' said Martin, confirming what the electorate already knows.
Part of the challenge is linguistic. Speaking in English, Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde said all MEPs should be able to continue to speak in their mother tongues.
'We need a craftsman, a handyman rather than a statesman,' said the veteran member, with a passing nod to Nicole Fontaine.
The outgoing president loved the pomp and circumstance of her job and never missed a chance to hobnob with world leaders. The French politician spent her last day in office among pupils of the 'Nicole Fontaine' school outside Strasbourg. There she was greeted by 130 'honoured' students 'spontaneously' singing Merci Madame la Présidente, according to the North Korean politburo-style press release put out by her office.
Pat Cox will probably adore this sort of thing. The former TV presenter is a natural performer who is more than a little enamoured with the sound of his own voice. Cox started his pre-election speech by stating: 'I've read in the papers that I am loquacious. In Ireland we're all loquacious.' No one disagreed.
After the first round of votes - which failed to deliver the Liberal leader an absolute majority - Cox didn't look so chirpy. Together with centre-right chief Hans-Gert Pöttering, the father of six started to do his sums. At least, that's what it looked like. The two leaders were probably playing noughts and crosses.
Groups of MEPs huddled outside the chamber to spin, plot and gossip. There was a palpable air of excitement, but not everyone was delighted by the fact that the smaller groups had forced a second round. British Liberal MEP Nick Clegg was more interested in finding out if his wife had given birth yet.
At least one member was guaranteed a momentous day.
In the end, the result was just as Martin predicted in an unfortunate pre-election interview - Cox won and the Socialists find themselves deprived of the presidency for the third time in a row.
Taking his place in Parliament's top seat, the staunchly pro-European Cox suddenly went all Irish. He started speaking Gaelic, quoted a seventh-century Irish saint and waxed lyrical about looking at the stars for imagination.
Aside from his nationality, Cox explained that the reason for his loquaciousness is that the Blarney stone - which gives those who kiss it the gift of the gab - is in his constituency. Sometimes, like Obelix, the Asterix character endowed with superhuman powers after he fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a baby, it seems as if Cox swallowed the stone as a child.
Another thing Cox will be swallowing a lot of in the coming days is his beloved Guinness.
When asked how he would celebrate his election, the newly-elected President replied: 'liquidly'.
A profile of Pat Cox, the President of the European Parliament, and a discussion of the election contest.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|