European Elections: North London MEP heading for top billing

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PAULINE GREEN MEP would be the first to admit that she is not a household name, not even in her own constituency of London North. But she is not too worried.

'I defy anyone to tell me how, with a constituency 760,000-people strong, you can be instantly recognised by everyone. I don't worry too much, the important thing is that people understand the work you do, not that you come across as a media star,' she says. 'Do not expect a book on the sex lives of Euro-MPs.'

Her lack of public profile in Britain is deceptive; her star already shines brightly in the European firmament and looks set to shoot her to greater heights.

As leader of the Labour MEPs, a post she has held for less than a year, Mrs Green, 45, has impressed with her application, dedication and determination. She is now tipped to become the leader of the European Socialists, already the largest single political grouping in Strasbourg. There is a chance the Socialists, drawn from all 12 EU countries, may command an outright majority of the 567 seats after 12 June. This would make Mrs Green one of the most influential politicians in the EU.

The British Labour Party plays a pivotal role in this election. The first-past-the-post system in Britain means that even a small swing to the party could translate into a large number of seats won in the European parliament. A good performance by Labour on 9 June could give the Socialist Group a majority for the first time. It would also strengthen Mrs Green's claim on the Euro-Socialist leadership. Labour already dominates the Socialist Group with 45 seats. Germany's Social Democrats follow with 31 members.

Mrs Green's ambition is to see the European parliament become an institution the public can understand and identify with. 'We do that by seizing the political agenda, basing our work on what is realistically achievable and tackling head-on those things that the parliament does have power to influence.'

This will be the first European parliament to start out with the enhanced powers of scrutiny gained under the Maastricht treaty. Mrs Green would like to see it exercise its new right to vet the incoming European Commission next January by introducing US congressional-style public hearings. 'Ratification of the Commission is the first big test - it will determine the seriousness with which parliament is taken in the future.'

From the start, when she first joined the European parliament in 1989, Pauline Green won a reputation for thoroughness accompanied by the ability to put herself across in lectures and speeches. For this campaign she has already addressed 1,500 local meetings. 'It is quite simple to explain what Europe is about once you get across to people that the Westminster model is not relevant,' she says. 'I think we are too hung up on the idea that the European parliament will only be a 'real' parliament when it wins the same rights as national assemblies. I don't hold with that at all, it is unique - the only multinational parliament. I think we should start thinking laterally about what it should be doing and not just trying to ape Westminster.'

The real power of the parliament lies in the scrutiny and amendment of European legislation. Mrs Green has championed environmental and consumer causes. After working as a police secretary (her husband is a policeman), she came into politics via the Co-op movement for which she was a full-time lobbyist. She cites her greatest personal achievement as having pioneered legislation on food hygiene.

She was born in Malta where her father, a British soldier, met her mother, and is convinced that 'a European and a British identity are not mutually exclusive'. The MEP who declared she had come to Europe to make things difficult for one of her local MPs, Margaret Thatcher, still talks tough but knows how to compromise when necessary. To lead the Socialist Group into the next century would be the challenge of a lifetime.

(Photograph omitted)