The fve-year period during which I was EPP President and also chair of the EPP Group in the European Parliament demanded considerable energy. I tried time and again, with the extremely limited means that were given me, to reach consensus in a Parliament that I did not as yet know very well. Not a day went by without my being preoccupied by it. A completely new direction had been taken in electing me, a complete newcomer, as head of the Group. I could indeed draw on twelve years of experience as Prime Minister and member of the European Council, and on the fact that I had been EPP President since 1990. My ambition was to lead the Group with authority and to ensure a greater degree of cohesion in its actions. To succeed, I would have to overcome much opposition and make many personal sacrifces.
There are two crucial matters that I shall never forget. My presidency coincided with Jacques Santer's leadership of the European Commission. The vote of confdence for Santer as President and his subsequent fall from grace cost me a great deal, personally and politically. I had fought hard to defend his Commission both within our Group and in Parliament. At times it felt as if I were tilting against windmills. Besides this particular challenge, Forza Italia's joining the EPP Group proved to be one of my most delicate tasks as Group leader. The case was extremely complex, not to say explosive, both in Italy and in Parliament as well as on my home front. My own Flemish Christian Democrats would punish me for my support for Forza Italia's membership.