Associated Press WriterSTRASBOURG, France (AP) -- Irish Liberal Pat Cox was elected president of the European Parliament on Tuesday following an unexpectedly tough fight from a Scottish challenger with close ties to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It was the first time in the Parliament's 52-year history that a true contest took place to elect the most powerful member of this EU institution. In the past, a candidate won the job through prearranged deals between the parties.
Cox, 49, advocates reforms to make the 626-member EU assembly more effective and relevant. He campaigned on a promise to raise the profile of a legislature often seen as having little impact on EU or world affairs.
Cox won an absolute majority in the third round of balloting with 298 votes against 236 for Scottish socialist David Martin and 33 for Danish nationalist Jens-Peter Bonde.
In all, 586 members of Parliament took part in the decisive round of voting.
Results of the first two ballots failed to secure an overall majority for Cox, with Martin of the British Labor Party remaining within striking distance. Three other candidates had also entered the election.
After winning, Cox thanked the parliamentarians for choosing a representative from a small nation and a small party.
"That is a powerful message that you've given to a Europe about to enlarge," said Cox.
Martin said the tough balloting had ended the back-room jostling that has long determined the parliament leadership. "We have cracked the cozy deals which have dictated elections of the past," he said.
In a deal three years ago, Cox agreed to back the conservatives' candidate for president in 1999. In return, the center-right European People's Party, which holds the most seats in the chamber, was to back his candidacy this time around.
Almost all political parties in the chamber put forward a candidate to replace outgoing French conservative, Nicole Fontaine, who ended her 2 1/2-year term Monday.
After the latest round of treaty reforms, about three-quarters of all EU legislation is debated by the assembly. The body now has the power to alter or throw out proposed bills.
In a surprise show of force, the Parliament used its growing power to throw out the last EU executive commission in 1999 after it became mired in a corruption scandal.
On the net:
European Parliament presidential vote: http://europarl.telemak.com/