The European Union has chosen its first full-time president – Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy. Leaders of the 27-member bloc also chose a woman for the second top job – British commissioner Catherine Ashton, who will be the EU’s new foreign policy chief
At a press conference in Brussels, the European Union’s President-elect Herman Van Rompuy offered a unifying message in English, Flemish and French – vowing to listen and take into account all the diverse views of the 27-member block.
“Europe must be in every member state’s advantage,” said Herman Van Rompuy. “This cardinal principle leds me to a two-track approach. First of all, I will consider everyone’s interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity is our strength, our diversity remains our wealth. Every country has its own history, its own culture, its own way of doing things. Our journey may be toward a common destination, but we will all bring along different luggage.”
Von Rompuy also vowed to ensure that every country in the EU will emerge victorious from any decision taken. He becomes the new EU president January 1.
Von Rompuy’s selection took place fairly swiftly over a dinner meeting among European leaders, after weeks of divisions over who would get the top job. In selecting the Belgian premier, they opted for a candidate able to cobble unity and compromise, rather than a high profile figure for the job.
EU leaders also sought balance in selecting Catherine Ashton, the British trade commissioner for the European Union, for the job as foreign minister. Ashton said she was proud to be selected for a high-profile role in an institution dominated by men. And she said she would deliver results.
“Am I an ego on legs? No I’m not,” said Catherine Ashton. “Do I want to be seen as saying everything all the time? No I don’t. Judge me on what I do and I think you’ll be pleased and proud of me.”
The moment of greatest levity – and complexity – came when a reporter asked who world leaders should dial when they wanted to speak to the European Union. That remains a tricky answer as the EU is still a federation of individual and independent states.
19 November 2009