European Parliament's Buzek: Polish master of compromise

16th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Plucked from relative obscurity in 1997 to become prime minister -- often an ejector seat in Poland -- Buzek made his mark by surviving an entire four-year term until his then party, Solidarity, lost the 2001 elections.

Warsaw -- Poland's Jerzy Buzek, the European Parliament's first president from the old eastern bloc, is a master of compromise who cut his political teeth with the anti-communist Solidarity movement.

Ahead of his election Tuesday, Buzek said it would help end "the division between the old and new members" of the European Union.

"In the past, the Iron Curtain separated the old and the new. It is less visible today, but the division between the new and those who have been in the EU a long time still exists," Buzek told the Polish newspaper Polska.

"We want this division to disappear. And it will disappear," he said.

Plucked from relative obscurity in 1997 to become prime minister -- often an ejector seat in Poland -- Buzek made his mark by surviving an entire four-year term until his then party, Solidarity, lost the 2001 elections.

Buzek, 69, has a "sense of compromise, sometimes excessively so," said Boguslaw Sonik, who like Buzek sits in the European Parliament for Poland's ruling Civic Platform.

That trait has gained Buzek friends in key EU member states, notably Germany, since Poland joined in 2004, said Sonik.

The Civic Platform topped last month's EU elections in Poland, boosting the Polish claim on a place at the EU's top table.

Buzek scored a record 393,117 votes. Polls show he is Poland's most trusted politician, with 58-percent approval, equalling Solidarity icon Lech Walesa.

Buzek first won an EU seat in 2004.

"He's always the last one to leave his office. He's rarely out before midnight. He's one of the most active MEPs," said Sonik.

Buzek, a Protestant, is a Polish establishment outsider. More than 90 percent of Poland's 38 million people is Roman Catholic.

He was born in 1940 in a southern region on the frontline of history. The area was seized by Poland in 1938 from the then Czechoslovakia, occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939, and returned to Prague after World War II.

After the war his family moved to Poland's southern industrial hub, Silesia.

He studied chemical engineering and worked as a researcher and lecturer. In the early 1970s he spent a year at Britain's Cambridge University.

After the birth in 1980 of Solidarity, Buzek founded a Silesian branch of the opposition trade union and presided over the movement's national congress.

When Solidarity was forced underground by a communist military crackdown in 1981, he ran its clandestine operations in Silesia.

He remained a player after Solidarity peacefully drove the communists from power in 1989. He worked on its 1997 election manifesto and won a seat in Poland's parliament.

When he was named premier, critics saw him as a puppet of Solidarity's trade union wing. But he united warring factions and steered through key healthcare, social security and local government reforms.

Under Buzek, Poland joined NATO in 1999, and began EU membership talks. After losing the 2001 election he returned to academia, before diving into the EU scene.

"For sure, even if I regret admitting it, I've preferred my five years in the European Parliament to my career as prime minister of Poland," he said recently.

In his spare time, Buzek enjoys kayaking in Mazuria, Poland's lake district.

His wife Ludgarda is a research chemist. Their daughter Agata is a film actress who has worked with big names such as Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski.

AFP/Expatica

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