For his first official visit to France this week, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament had a full schedule. Paris was one of his stops on a tour of European capitals which aims to raise his profile in the Member States.Â
Since his inauguration last July, he has been overshadowed by the debates surrounding the nominations of the other 'heads' of Europe: Van Rompuy and Ashton. His visit was a calculated bid to win over the national press and to gain support amongst the ranks of national parliamentarians. Nonetheless, amid meetings with the French President, the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the national parliament and deputies, Mr. Buzek, also managed to find the time to debate with the students in a Parisian school.
A former leader of the Solidarnosc movement and Prime Minister of Poland, President Buzek's political skills and charisma were evident. A chemical engineer and teacher by profession he was obviously at ease with a student audience. The students had prepared an exhibition on their recent visit to Auschwitz. Speaking alongside Pierre Lellouche and Simone Veil, Mr Buzek said that the Schuman Declaration had been the best way to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. He spoke of this event as 'the worst violation of human rights in history', saying that the EU had been founded in reaction to the tragedy of the war and based on reconciliation with Germany.
Mr Buzek, responding to questions in his native polish, gave a passionate defence of the European Union. Despite the difficult transition period from communist rule to the market economy and European membership, he said that Polish people remained very supportive of the European Union. He described the changes that he had witnessed in his own lifetime as a miracle – a miracle that had been made possible by European membership.
Not shying away from controversial questions, the students asked him about his views on Turkish membership of the EU and European identity. Speaking frankly, Mr Buzek said that Turkey had not, as yet, fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria for membership and until these rigorous criteria were fulfilled there could be no question of membership. In response to the question on European identity, he said that it was not in opposition to national identity which had been built up over many decades. At the same time, he recalled that we have shared over a 1000 years of European history. In his view, there was no reason to give up our attachment to our national heritage: "We are a community, with different visions of the world, with different histories but with a common basis in our values of liberty, solidarity, democracy and defence of human rights."
Questioned about his relations with the three other figureheads of the EU, Van Rompuy, Zapatero and Barroso, Mr Buzek replied that much depended on the personalities in question. Having the right rules doesn't necessarily generate harmonious cooperation between leaders. He said that EU leaders would have to create a culture of cooperation which would be more important than any rules.
The new powers conferred on the Parliament make it stronger than ever before. If any further evidence of this new status were needed, France decided this week to move MEPs up the protocol listing from 23rd to 13th position, which places them just behind the Senate and ahead of the Judiciary. It mightn't mean much to the average citizen, but symbolically it marks the ascent of the European Parliament in the political ranks. This was the essential political message of Mr Buzek's visit to Paris: the Lisbon reforms firmly places the European Parliament centre stage.
Interview with Jerzy Buzek
European parliament (in French)