RIGA - The new, expanded European Parliament convened on July 20 as part of its inaugural three-day session, electing a new president and demonstrating to the continental public where the disposition of forces lie in the EU's legislature.
The first task of the 732-member Parliament - representing 25 countries, including the 10 largely East European countries that acceded on May 1 - was to elect a new president to replace the outgoing Pat Cox, and Spanish socialist Josep Borrell won with a handy lead over the two other candidates as a result of a compromise between the legislature's top two parties - the right-wing European People's Party and the Party of European Socialists.
According to the compromise, the EPP agreed to back Borrell for the first half of Parliament's five-year term in return for him stepping down in favor of its candidate, Germany's Hans-Gert Poettering, who will ostensibly chair the legislature for the second two-and-a-half years.
As a result, Borrell received 388 votes, far more than the 324 necessary to secure the position.
His opponents, Poland's Bronislaw Geremek, who was backed by the Liberal Democrats, and France's communist Francis Wurtz, received 208 and 51 votes respectively.
In his victory speech, Borrell, who comes from Catalan, told his colleagues that the Europarliament needed "to build this institution to speak a language people can understand," a reference to the low voter turnout in the June Europarliament elections in all 25 member countries and the stronger-than-usual showing by Euroskeptics.
Many slammed the agreement by the opposite political forces.
Liberal group leader Graham Watson was quoted as saying, "The alliance they have formed is an unnatural one... I believe the citizens of the European Union are fed up with back-room deals."
Borrell was Spain's transport minister under former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was also a member of the 105-person European Convention that drafted the EU constitution last year.
The Parliament's new members - 10 countries represented by 162 MEPs, including 28 from the Baltics, were welcomed by its oldest member - Italy's Giovanni Berlinguer.
"Europe's borders have been expanded, and the union's activities are also going to be expanded," he said.
The European Parliament now has 20 official languages after the expansion. Meanwhile, the legislature's Euroskeptic group made its presence felt.
Robert Kilroy-Silk, head of the anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party, led his group of 12 MEPs to a boycott of the presidency vote, saying they were appalled at what they saw.
"We will do everything we can to obstruct and delay legislation," he told reporters. "A politically united Europe - this is for me a nightmare."