The new president of the European Parliament, former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, has pledged to make the European Union more accessible to average citizens following a record-low voter turnout in recent European elections. As the first East European politician to take up the post, Buzek faces a difficult task as the bloc suffers under a global economic crisis and tensions over necessary reforms.
A former center-right prime minister of Poland, Jerzy Buzek, became the first Eastern European politician to be elected as president of the European Parliament with 555 votes out of 713 votes cast.
Speaking to European law makers, the 69-year-old Buzek said the appointment was more than he could have dreamed of when Poland was still a Communist nation.
"Thank you for electing me President of the European Parliament. For me it is both an enormous challenge and a great honor," he said.
He adds in Polish: "Once upon a time I hoped to be a member of a Polish Parliament in a free Poland. Today I have become President of the European Parliament, something I could never have dreamed of in my country, that is a measure of how Europe can change."
Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who chairs a liberal coalition, warned Buzek the European Union still has to introduce a key reform treaty, known as the Lisbon Treaty, at a time when it also deals with the impact of the global financial meltdown.
"You become a president in a very difficult time, we have to ratify Lisbon, we have to find as single strategy against the economic and financial crisis and that is a huge task in which you have the full support of our group, behind you is a large pro European majority in this parliament," he said.
Buzek told reporters he wants the Lisbon Treaty to be ratified soon. The pact is seen as key to further enlargement of the European Union.
The treaty was rejected by Ireland in a referendum, but the country will hold a new vote in October.
Buzek said EU expansion had benefited his own country and other former nations of the former Soviet-led East Block.
He also made clear that as president of the European Parliament one of his other goals would be to make EU politics more interesting for Europeans, following a record low voter turnout of just 43 percent in last month's European elections in the 27 member states.
"Our citizens do not understand what is going on in the EU and in which direction we are going, how important it is what we are doing here in the European Parliament ... So we must keep in touch with them and also, be in close contact with national parliaments is very important for us. We will discuss in September and October and we should start quite new programs for that," he said.
Despite the expected political and economic difficulties, Polish Prime Minister Prime Minister Donald Tusk described Buzek's election as the integration of "new and old Europe."