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European Ombudsman: 'Without ensuring political alliances, one cannot be elected'

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Nikiforos Diamandouros has been Ombudsman since 2003. As Pöttering becomes president of the European parliament on January 16, the Greek mediator explains how it all works behind the scenes

Describe Hans Gert Pöttering in your own words.

Pöttering is an extremely committed European. His 28 years of experience makes him one of our veteran politicians. He is devoted in establishing a powerful European identity. When former Commission president Jacques Santer (the head in 1995) and his team resigned en bloc on March 15, 1999 (after allegations of corruption), it was Pöttering who kept face and supported Romano Prodi as replacement (1999-2004). He really helped pioneer the European spirit from the beginning, when he started in 1979.

What do you believe that Pöttering’s first job should be when he becomes president?

The biggest challenge facing him is on how to advance since the EU moved from 15 to 27 members. More precisely, his strategy will be to strengthen and consolidate all the positive elements of the EU’s biggest 50 first years.

What about his stance on Turkey’s accession to the EU?

We have not yet discussed the bid officially with him. But he was an advocate of 2004’s enlargement policy, and was particularly in favour of Cyprus joining the EU.

The outgoing president, Josep Borrell, recently stated that he would like to be remembered for making parliament ‘more than just the proverbial Tower of Babel.’ Do you agree?

Borrell leaves us with a parliament where 27 countries, 7 political teams and more than 100 national parties are represented. We credit Borrell with producing constructive legislation and effective alliances. The personality of a leader is a very important.

Pöttering becomes head because of a 2004 decision by the CDU, where the EPP and Socialists would vote for him in exchange for his party's then support for Borrell. Can you explain this election process?

It depends on the alliances created by the two big parties. Borrell exploited the collaboration in a deal with the conservative faction, Pöttering’s EPP. Without ensuring such alliances in a 785-member parliament, one cannot be elected.

Does the presidency sketch out the political tendency of member states on a national level?

No, this is a maturation of European undertaking. Irishman Pat Cox (2002-2004) came from a very small liberal team supported in the customary. The dynamics of big parties may exist, but the quality of the candidate is equally important.

Will Pöttering revive the constituion?

The Europe that we have built cannot look back. It is not historically conceivable to abandon it. But we will only get a picture once the result of the French elections is out and the initiatives of the six month German presidency are established. I don’t doubt it will be a main priority, since Pöttering and his party belong to the Chancellery. But it’s necessary that the new text incorporates the basics from the beginning of the rejected proposal.

You speak to European citizens daily. How do they feel about the future?

There’s an air of embarrassment and expectation. No one wants a regression in the progress of the union. Despite the creation of a communications commisioner (the Swede Margot Wallström), it still has a problem with communication, in reaching citizens about issues large or small.