Milestone for Eastern Europe European Parliament Elects Former Polish Prime Minister as President

The European Parliament elected former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek as its president on Tuesday, making him the first Eastern European to hold one of the top European Union posts.

Jerzy Buzek, 69, the former prime minister of Poland, became the first Eastern European to hold a top EU position on Tuesday when the European Parliament elected him as its president.

Poland's Jerzy Buzek was elected European Parliament president on Tuesday.

Poland's Jerzy Buzek was elected European Parliament president on Tuesday.

He received 555 of the 644 votes cast, easily beating his only rival for the post, Swedish left-wing politician Eva-Britt Svensson, who got 89 votes. Buzek succeeds German conservative Hans-Gert Pöttering, who will stay on as an ordinary MEP.

The post is largely ceremonial but Buzek's appointment is a symbolic victory for the new EU member states from Eastern and Central Europe, which often complain their views aren't given enough attention by the 27-nation bloc's western members.

"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 assembly in the French city of Strasbourg. "There is no you and us. This is now our shared Europe."

He will serve a term of two-and-a-half years under a deal among parliamentary groups which will allow a Socialist candidate to hold the post for the second half of the parliament's five-year mandate.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Buzek's election was a sign that European integration had been a success since eight countries from Eastern and Central Europe, including Poland, joined the EU in 2004. Two more became members in 2007.

"Twenty years after the Berlin Wall came down, five years after enlargement, your election today is, I think, a resounding victory for a united Europe," Barroso told the parliament.

Buzek, who was a member of the Solidarity trade union that ended Communist rule in Poland and later served as prime minister from 1997 to 2001, said the European Parliament must do more to explain Europe to its citizens.

"The biggest crisis that we must overcome is the crisis of the lack of trust from our citizens," he said. "Our citizens often do not understand us -- we must do everything to change this."

He also underlined the importance of all EU member states approving the Lisbon Treaty, which aims to reform EU institutions and streamline decision-making. Ireland is to hold a referendumon the treaty on October 2.

cro -- with wire reports


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