As I watched the presidential election today, I couldn't help but feel a little sad. I knew this was coming, but it is hard to realise that Jerzy Buzek won't be the President of the European Parliament anymore.
You may think this is silly, but even though I don't know Jerzy Buzek personally I grew very fond of him these last few months. You know how sometimes people say they feel like they grew up with a newscaster, a TV presenter or a cartoon character because they would watch him everyday during their childhood? Well, that's a little how I feel. I started my first traineeship in the European Parliament in February 2011, a little less than a year ago and since then I've seen Buzek at the plenary, in videos, and on the news. I've also written numerous articles where I mention him and I've even had the chance to meet him 3 times in person, all of which I am sure he doesn't remember, but that's ok.
The first time I met him, it was outside the Parliament in Strasbourg during the plenary in May. I waited for what seemed like hours to take a picture with him. A group of tourists, probably visitors in the Parliament, kept on talking to him and shaking his hand. His assistant, I can only presume, told him he was late for a meeting and should start moving. He walked towards me and I seized the opportunity to ask if I could take a picture with him. I really don't know why but my heart was racing and I tried my best to keep my eyes open and have a nice smile. It would have been a shame to screw up a photo opportunity with Buzek. Once it was over, I couldn't believe my chance. The other trainees would be so jealous when they saw my profile picture on Facebook… and indeed they were.
The second time I saw him, it was at a reception organised by trainees and his office in June. The reception was organised on the 12th floor of the PHS building, in the Presidential Salon. This time, it was a different story. There were 150 trainees in a small room excited to meet him. And they all had the same goal: to take a picture with him. It seemed as if Lady Gaga was in the room about to give a concert, but without the yelling and screaming, the trainees TRIED to look civilised but failed. I have a very special group photo to remember this day. Unfortunately, I am the only one who can know I was there as you can only see the top of my head. He gave a long speech about how as young people, we are the future of Europe, but what I remember the most is when he said “I hope that you are enjoying your time here in the Parliament, and in Place Lux!". Oh, so it is not a secret that trainees spend all their Thursday nights/ early Friday mornings at Place Lux? We should do a better job of hiding it next time…
The third time I met Buzek, it was actually kind of embarrassing and some of members of the Webcomm team know what I'm talking about. Two fans from the European Parliament's Facebook page had won a trip to come visit the Parliament's premises at Strasbourg and meet Jerzy Buzek. This was a big deal for the two winners to meet the President of the European Parliament. I hope I didn't ruin their moment nor the video that was recording. The incident is the following: I was standing close to them when they were introduced to the President when suddenly he turned to me and he asked me where I was from, thinking I was also a winner. He caught me by surprise and threw me off my guard. Quick, I have to think, what do I say? I finally mumbled something about being a trainee at the European Parliament. You know when you were a student and you weren't paying attention and suddenly the teacher asks you for an answer, that's exactly how I felt. He smiled, turned around, and I sighed in relief.
Buzek's popularity is off the charts
Don't get me wrong, I am sure that Martin Schulz will be a great president as well. But it just won't be the same… Buzek is Buzek. Why is he so popular? Well, first of all when you take a look at him he just seems like a nice, simple, accessible person. If you ask the EP trainees to describe Buzek, they will ALL say the exact same thing: "He reminds me of my grandpa". I would also like to add that he embodies the "cool attitude".
To confirm that I am not the only "groupie" out there, let's look at some figures.
According to Xinhua, a Chinese news website, "the 72-year-old Polish engineer-turned-politician has at least one mission well accomplished: maintaining his personal popularity, as always and also via trendy channels". "The secret to his accomplishment" resides in the fact that he was the first Parliament president to hold a live chat with Facebook users. I guess now is also the time to say "kudos" to the Webcomm team who make these chats happen. Thanks to them, Buzek is more popular than before.
He is also a social media celebrity. With more than 44 728 Facebook fans and 15 203 followers, "Buzek has managed to deliver opinions in a personal and fashionable way amid the information blast in Brussels" says Xinhua.
Buzek is also popular in the political circles. Xinhua indicates that he was named "MEP of the Year 2006" in the research and technology category and crowned as "Best Polish MEP" in 2008 by Polish media. " Prior to the MEP errands, Buzek had also been a popular and respected Prime Minister back at home, who had initiated Poland's accession negotiation with the European in 1997 and guided Poland into the NATO structures in 1999 ".
Today definitely marks the end of an era.