Cox likely to win election to European Parliament presidency

 

The main rival of Mr Pat Cox for the post of president of the European Parliament has conceded that the Munster MEP looks certain to win next Tuesday's election.

Mr David Martin, a Scottish Socialist, told The Irish Times that he expected Mr Cox to win the support of a narrow majority of the 626 MEPs. "It's very close with about 20 votes in it, but if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on him," Mr Martin said.

Mr Cox, who leads the Liberal group in the parliament, has been promised the support of the conservative EPP, the European People's Party and hopes to win the support of Fianna Fáil's Union for Europe of the Nations. However, the outcome will depend on the votes of 45 Green MEPs whose own candidate is likely to be eliminated after the first ballot.

Mr Cox said yesterday he was confident that most Greens would vote for him in a second ballot. "I have grounds to believe we'll be able to build a majority," he said.

Mr Martin agreed that Green votes would be crucial in determining who succeeded Ms Nicole Fontaine, a French conservative. "To have a real chance of winning, I'd need to get at least 50 per cent of those votes. It looks as if they are tilting 70-30 towards Pat," he said.

The president chairs some parliamentary debates and represents the European Parliament at meetings with the Commission and EU leaders. Mr Cox secured the support of the EPP in return for the Liberals' backing of Ms Fontaine in 1999. If he wins, Mr Cox's term in office will last until June 2004, when the next European Parliament elections are held.

Despite Mr Martin's concession that he will probably lose, the election outcome remains uncertain because it will be conducted by secret ballot.

Mr Cox acknowledged that some British Conservative members of the EPP would not vote for him, but he dismissed reports that Spanish and Greek conservatives were withholding their support.

"The Spanish phenomenon was a product of spin and I'm satisfied that I can rely on their undivided support next week. I can tell you with certainty that the same is true of the Greek colleagues in the EPP," he said.

Until Ms Fontaine's election, the Socialists and the EPP took turns, as the two biggest blocs, to nominate the parliament's president. Next week's election follows an unprecedented campaign with five candidates.

Mr Martin said that regardless of the election outcome, the parliament had benefited from the dialogue and debate generated by the campaign. "It has been very good for parliament and if Pat wins, his legitimacy as president will have been enhanced by this process," he said.