Putting heart and soul into Europe: Sarah Lambert, in Brussels, speaks to Socialist Pauline Green about her parliamentary plans

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BRITAIN, contrary to the perceptions of European allies, is not only at the heart of Europe but is preparing to exercise profound influence on its soul. The failure at Corfu to appoint a successor to Jacques Delors has prompted fresh criticism that the mechanisms of the European Union are undemocratic. But waiting in the wings is the new European Parliament of elected representatives whose largest faction - the Socialists - are led by a Briton.

Next Wednesday Pauline Green is due to be formally elected leader of the Parliament's Socialist Group after endorsement by socialist member-state representatives in Corfu. Her first act will be to press the incoming German presidency to address the Parliament's political leaders on the subject of the Delors succession ahead of the 15 July summit that the Germans have signalled they will hold in Brussels to resolve the Corfu deadlock.

A former policewoman, and lobbyist for the Co-operative movement, Pauline Green was a European almost before the concept existed. 'I was a soldier's daughter and grew up all over Europe. It brings home to you that we have so much in common that it is important to break down the barriers. I have two grown-up children and if their future has to be one of peace and prosperity I do not see how that is possible in a divided Europe,' she said.

The Socialists are the biggest single party in the new Parliament and British Labour MEPs the largest single national contingent. The group wields even greater influence than the numbers would suggest because the right is so divided. For Pauline Green this offers a double opportunity: as leader of what is likely to be the most politically coherent grouping, she will probably develop a profile as a spokeswoman for the Parliament as a whole. As a British Socialist she can develop the European Parliament as a Labour Party power base.

She is clearly aware of the possibilities but wary of making them too explicit, stressing that the European Parliament operates by consensus. Her immediate aim is to demonstrate to the EU's 340 million citizens that the Union is of relevance to them. 'There are misconceptions that must be corrected because they make people anxious; people are anxious of what they don't know, what they don't know they fear and what they fear, they reject.'

Unemployment must be the first priority. 'There are 20 million jobless - the combined population of Denmark, Belgium and Ireland. We want to hear what the attitude of any prospective Commission president is to job creation, to social policy, to improving openness and democracy.

'For the first time, under the Maastrict treaty the Parliament must ratify the Commission's appointment. John Major demonstrated at Corfu that there is a right to veto; this right belongs constitutionally to the Parliament too and we shall use it if we have to, this is not an idle threat.' Though a Labour Party member and a European Socialist, Mrs Green accepts that the European Parliament will probably have to welcome a Christian Democrat to the top Brussels job but says: 'He, and I think it will be a he, must be a strong and effective leader.' She warns that the real issue in Corfu was competing visions of Europe and is dismayed by what she sees as the move by some member states, particularly the UK, to push the Union back to inter- governmentalism - to decision-making behind closed doors and between national capitals.

'The European Parliament is not about diluting national sovereignty in Britain or anywhere else. The Council and the Commission must be made accountable; all democrats - left or right - should be able to unite round this purpose,' she insists.

First, she admits, the Parliament will have to clean up its own act, to crack down on absenteeism not only in the monthly Strasbourg meetings but also in the Brussels committees where most of the ground work is done.

She defends the right of the European Parliament to discuss foreign policy, where its influence is highly restricted, arguing 'it is the right of an international parliament to look at the wider issues'. But she depairs at some of the initiatives that have detracted from the Parliament's real achievements.

The potential for mischief- making, particularly with a Conservative government at home, is clearly something she relishes.

(Photograph omitted)