In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is president of the European Parliament. He joined the SPD, the German social democratic party, at the age of 18. He was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and since 2004 has been leader of the Socialist group there. He became president of the parliament in January 2012. He is married with two children
Eamon and I met first in the European election campaign in 2004. You meet people and feel in the first second, this is a person you like and with whom you could imagine to become friends. This is the feeling both of us had, spontaneously. Eamon is a very spontaneous man with a very open-minded character. And me too . . . and we understood each other immediately.
It's not about our political views, no, no. We are similar characters is my feeling: we have the same kind of relationship to our wives, our children. We have a sense of humour. If we discuss family, you can believe he has the exact same feeling, the same view on human relations as I have, that's what I felt from the first moment.
I have also always had the feeling that he is very rooted in his constituency, in his surroundings. I used to be a mayor in Germany. In local politics you learn very fast that the most important thing in political life is individual personal relations and mutual trust. You must keep your promises . . . All these elements are similar for Eamon and for me.
It is easier to do business politically when people have a personal relationship, absolutely. He will become president of the general affairs council when Ireland holds the EU presidency. If you've known somebody for a very long time you take the phone and call him . . . and that makes life much easier.
On an international level such individual friendships are perhaps more important than at a national level. . . At an international level you must take into account heterogeneous cultures, backgrounds, traditions and so individual relations play a bigger role.
In the framework of European decision making, it is really helpful.
I have been in Ireland twice this year. The EU must keep its promises to Ireland: there was a promise made at the June summit and I was a witness to it. It concerns not only Ireland, it is a question of principle. The promise to Ireland must be kept not only because of Ireland but because of the credibility of the whole political system in Europe.
There is never time for Eamon and myself to socialise - we promise each other all the time to do more. We agreed to meet each other with our wives as soon as possible to go and look at exhibitions in Brussels.
We agreed to use the opportunity of the Irish presidency . . . to meet privately: but . . . we also promised not to be disappointed if it doesn't happen, because we know our schedules.
is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. He became leader of the Labour party in 2007 and will play a key role as the Republic takes over the EU Presidency for six months from January 1st. He, and his wife Carol, have three children and live in Shankill, Co Dublin
Martin and I first met prior to the 2004 European elections: I was the national director of elections for Labour here and went to Brussels and Strasbourg for meetings of the Socialist group coming up to that. Martin had just become leader of the group, the PES, in the European Parliament.
Over the years we've got to know each other very well, we've developed a friendship . . . Martin's someone you could kind of click with, have a chat with, have a joke with, talk about other people in the room maybe.
He has a great sense of humour, he's very sharp. He has a very lively style - he's shown that in the European Parliament, in a famous clash with Berlusconi and with some extreme rightwingers that he has to deal with . . . He used to spark off Charlie McCreevy when he was the European commissioner. He showed it here at a debate in UCD in October - he was like any old pro, rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into it.
It's true that neither of us was born with a silver spoon in the mouth: he's from a small town, I'm from a rural background. Our entry into politics was around the same time: He was involved with the SPD youth wing, I was in USI. Our paths have been very similar.
One of the things about international politics is that having people in the same place at the same time for a prolonged period of time doesn't happen very often. More than half the foreign ministers who were there when I took on the job in 2011 are now gone. It's unusual to have a working experience with someone over 10 years.
Now, we'll find ourselves working closely together over the next six months. The President of the European Parliament has a key role to play: since the Lisbon Treaty, the parliament has to approve the EU budget and is responsible for co-decisions in a whole range of legislative areas.
And as it happens, I have a close relationship personally with Martin and that's useful.
Martin is a great friend of Ireland: he believes there should be fairness in the way European economic policy is done.
I think it is to our advantage as a country that the President of the European Parliament is somebody who is very much in our corner.
I haven't had a chance to show Martin around Ireland except on the margins of a conference. But we're personal friends: politics is like any walk of life, there are some people you get on well with and people you don't. It's not confined to your own party: Martin and I just like each other.