Jerzy Buzek: Man From a Far Country?


It was hailed by many as an historic day in Strasbourg. The Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek was overwhelmingly chosen as the European Parliament’s president – the first time a leader from the former Soviet bloc is leading a major EU institution. In his inaugural speech, Buzek said: “Once upon a time I hoped to be a member of the Polish Parliament, in a free Poland. Today I have become the president of the European Parliament, something I could never have dreamed of. I consider my election to be a tribute to the millions of people who didn’t bow to a hostile system”. He stressed that “there is no longer ‘you’ and ‘us’ – we all live in one Europe shared by all”.

Buzek started his political career in 1980 by joining the Solidarity movement. In the years 1997-2001, he was the prime minister of Poland; he remains the only Polish prime minister to have served a full four-year term after 1989. Importantly, Buzek’s government is remembered to this day, not just because of Buzek’s holding position but for its successful policies.

Buzek’s cabinet carried out immense and fundamental reforms that many other countries would only have initiated gradually and with the greatest of care. However, on 1 January 1999, Poland woke up differently. It was the second wave of shock therapy: almost 60% of society was critical of the government’s achievements. His party in next elections failed to gain a single seat in the parliament. Buzek spent three years out of parliamentary politics, returning to his seat as professor of chemical engineering.

That period ended in 2004, when he became a member of the European Parliament for the first time. Buzek based his candidacy only on the popularity of his name and on direct contact with the voters. He received a record number of votes, 173,389 (22.14% of the total votes in the region). Now Buzek has even more popular mandate – he scooped 400,000 votes in June’s European elections. During his first term in the European Parliament, Buzek was sitting on the Industry, Research and Energy as well as the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committees. His commitment to environmental and energy-related issues is further evidenced by the fact that he was rapporteur for the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan. He has also been behind various initiatives: helping to establish the Consortium for Atmosphere Protection in Silesia in 1994 and the Polish-German Science Network for Energy and Environment Protection ‘Increase’ in 1997.

Buzek noted during his inaugural European Parliament speech that the key challenges of his term include tackling unemployment, energy security and climate change. However, he stressed the Lisbon Treaty would be a prerequisite, ‘so that the Union can be well-organised and effective’. He actually presented a detailed report of his working programme, during the first plenary session (14-17 September).

Central and eastern Europe’s newspapers are full of enthusiasm for the new chamber’s president. Baltic politicians lead the torrent of praise: Vytautas Landdbergis, the first head of state of Lithuania after the Baltic country’s breakaway from the Soviet Union, in his article claimed that Buzek’s election is very favourable because being a Polish delegate Buzek knows well current problems concerning Vilnius. The former Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs admitted that, without any doubt, Buzek understands Lithuanian issues not only as a citizen of a neighbouring country but also as a politician who has experience with Eastern Europe. He also stressed that it is a historical moment as the new leader’s election serves as a symbol of the end of the division of Europe.

In Germany Buzek’s election is very well-received. The “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” wrote that the highest office of the European Parliament is taken by a personality who is not only a symbol of the struggle for democracy but who also through his life and times reliably epitomizes Europe’s unification.

In contrast, the French daily “Le Monde” appears not to be so enthusiastic. ‘Le Monde’ describes Buzek as modest and hardworking though lacking the necessary charisma for a president. However, “Quest France”, another French newspaper, emphasized the symbolic significance of his election. It also reminded that real integration required more time than EU expansion:It is as if an invisible iron curtain were continuing to divide Europe. Without wanting to exaggerate the importance of his function, we may assume that his election will allow the contribution of the states of Central and Eastern Europe to the European project to become a routine matter.”

Spanish daily “El Pais” registered perhaps a lighter note to the reactions using an automobile industry analogy: “’this pilot [Jerzy Buzek] is no Ferrari in politics, but nor is he a Biscúter [small Spanish car]. Perhaps he’s more like a Seat that’s getting on in years.”

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Lecturer in British History and Literature, Ionian University, Hellenic Republic
written by Dr.William Mallinson, September 21, 2009 

There could be just a little bit more than meets the eye, although the aricle is reasonably informative.First,Buzek is a mamber of Poland’s largest political party,Civic Platform,the party of the controversial Kashubian Prime Minister, Donald Tusk. Second, whatever Buzek’s emotionally European credentials, it should never be forgotten that Poland’s first act on gaining entry to the EU was to buy over 4 billion dollars’ worth of (American)F 16 jetfighters, quite rightfully infuriating the French, Germans and Swedes. Then, had Russia not (quite rightly) got stroppy, we would be awaiting US strategic missiles on Polish territory.And then , of course, who was Polish Prime Minister when Poland joined NATO in 1999 (the year the NATO treaty was due to run out), thus lending its slavish support to the 78-day bombing of fellow Slav country Serbia? None other than Mr. Buzek.I do not mean to sound cynical, as is us historians’ occasional wont,but let us wait and see whether Mr. Buzek supports proper integrationist European initiatives, like the Common Foreign and Security Policy, rather than the weaker Anglo-Saxon-friendly ESDP.Let us see if he will support the weakest and most Anglo-Saxon choice for President of the EU, Mr. Blair, because if he does, he will be presiding at the funeral of true European political integration. Blair, let us never forget, divided the EU and lied to the world about WMD’s, simply to attack Iraq with his US boss.The EU is still suffering from Blair’s murderously messianic and dishonest policies. Let true Europeans hope that Mr. Buzek will not betray some of the more negative sides of atavism, and prove instead to be a pleasant surprise.