Cox 'salutes and thanks' MEPs after election victory
The fact that it took him three rounds of voting to be elected gave his Presidency "a deeper sense of legitimacy", the Independent MEP for Munster, Mr Pat Cox, has told the European Parliament. He finally defeated the Socialist candidate, Mr David Martin, by 298 votes to 237.
Mr Cox had initially been a strong favourite because he had the support of the Christian Democrats who, with 232 members, are the largest faction in the parliament. As election day loomed, however, Mr Martin, a Scottish member of the British Labour Party, made gains by exploiting the disaffection of members with "precooked" election deals.
By the time the first vote was called yesterday morning, it was clear Mr Martin would mount a strong challenge, and Mr Cox's success could not be taken for granted. A majority of 50 per cent plus one vote was required for election to the Presidency.
In the first round, from a total valid poll of 583, the result was as follows: Cox 254; Martin 184; Jens-Peter Bonde (Eurosceptic) 66; Francis Wurtz (United Left) 42; Gerard Onesta (Greens) 37.
Mr Wurtz and Mr Onesta withdrew, leaving a field of three. Voting in the second ballot was as follows: Cox 277; Martin 226; Bonde 76. While Cox was still ahead, doubts still remained over his ability to secure enough of the Bonde votes for victory.
Mr Bonde was consulting his supporters and, following discussions with Mr Cox and Mr Martin, decided to withdraw without making any recommendation.
However, he arrived too late in the chamber, and a third round of voting proceeded with some confusion over Mr Bonde's intentions. Accordingly, he still received a number of votes and the result was as follows: Cox 298; Martin 237; Bonde 33. There were 568 valid votes and, since Cox had reached the required level, he was elected.
After the vote Mr Cox, who led the liberal grouping at Strasbourg, told MEPs of his pride that for the first time in two decades a member of this group had been chosen as President of the Parliament. He had not expected the voting to go to a third ballot.
The fact that a member from one of the smallest groups in the parliament and one of the smallest member-states had been elected to such a high position was "a powerful message to a Europe about to enlarge".
He told the 626 MEPs: "I salute you and thank you for it."
Speaking in Irish, which he noted was "an official but not a working language" of the EU, Mr Cox said cultural pluralism and diversity were the sine qua non of "the Europe we seek to build". They were on the brink of the most important event in recent European history. Enlargement meant bringing together a divided Europe to share common values and economic prosperity.
Pointing out that the flag of European unity with its stars was placed behind the President's chair in the parliament, he continued: "Nothing says we cannot look at those stars and dream of the future."
Congratulating Mr Cox, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said it was "a wonderful achievement, both for Mr Cox and for Ireland". He claimed the election refuted the argument that Europe was "run by the big nations for the big nations".
The Tánaiste, Ms Harney, said it was a great honour for an Irishman to lead the most representative parliament in the world.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, said in a letter to Mr Cox: "As a fellow Irish politician, it gives me great pleasure to salute so significant and indeed unprecedented an achievement."