Van Rompuy assigned first European president

After 9 years of treaty writing, rewriting, referendum organised in different countries, ... the treaty of Lisbon has finally been signed by all European union members. The treaty gives more power to the European parliament, decision by qualified majority votes instead of the unanimity requirement that currently paralises so much European decision taking, ... The treaty also foresees a new function a European president who will preceed the European council (all European government leaders) which will become an official institution and he will need to prepare their meetings.

And as immediate result of the treaty becoming active, heavy speculation started and who would become the first European president. Most countries had their own favourites and a lot of behind the doors diplomacy was happening to test the opinions and win concensus.

Much to my surprise I saw the Belgian press naming our Belgian prime minister as one of the potential candidates. My regular readers might remember the political debacle Belgium has been suffering for over 2 years and they might even be surprised we (still) have a prime minister. The fact that I've written so little about politics is because the situation in Belgium has become quite stable and quiet. It's our current prime minister Herman Van Rompuy (sworn in 30/12/2008) who can be credited for that.

Van Rompuy has a grey serious intellectual technocratic reputation only softened by his haiku writing hobby. He was not known for his big ego seeking the spotlight with bold statements, but more for being a silent worker in the background. Nevertheless he's build up a long curriculum from being political party president in the beginning of the nineties, minister for buget and recently the president of the chamber of representatives. In that last position he got often consulted during all the political negotiations /discussions / failing governments during the last 3 years. When Yves Leterme had to resign as prime minister last year, Herman Van Rompuy seemed the only 'acceptable' figure that had not burnt himself yet in the negotiations with bold statements who could take up the much needed role as prime minister.....which he seemingly dutifully but reluctantly did.

And we didn't hear much of him anymore. And I suppose he gained respect in Belgium for that, because we needed a worker so much, someone who clearly did manage to bring consensus in his team, reunite the many different opinions between the political parties and align them to work on a common project. And this didn't go unnoticed abroad.

So he was named as a potential candidate for the role of European president. More and more Belgian & international press started tipping the "poet-minister' and in Belgium the discussion for a new Prime Minister had been opened in the press. More and more newspapers started printing his haiku poems as support. The more they did, the more I was convinced he'd surely not become the president. In the past Belgian politicians named for top positions in the European union usually didn't get it due to British vetoes who fear our pro-European attitude. Besides bookmakers are always wrong right: aren't we always predicted to end in the top 5 of the Eurovision songcontest? Right?

Last week the European leaders didn't come to a conclusion for the assignment of their new top positions (they don't only need to assign a president, also a foreign affairs minister, new council members etc... One big balancing act!) so it was clear for me that not all countries were supporting Herman's candidacy. On top of that the British tabloids opened a vicious attack on the Belgian politician with titles such as "Britain ruled by a Belgian, you must be joking." Aaaaaah Belgium can sleep well: it's not going to loose its prime minister.

But the bookmakers proved right after all (the British gave up their veto after 'receiving' the foreign minister) and it is now a fact that Herman Van Rompuy becomes the first European president after all. With this choice they've surely given the journalists a nightmare by chosing someone with a name who probably only can be pronounced by the Flemish. But it is favourable to the budget as his move from one street in Brussels to another street in Brussels shouldn't be too costly :). It's still crisis after all.

So is he a good choice for the European Union?
  • He's not quite the profile to be an exiting "international" ego that will/needs to match his international counterparts like eg Obama or Poetin. This was the original intention when the treaty of Lisbon talked about a president role and at that time candidates such as Tony Blair were being named.
  • If he's chosen mainly because nobody opposed to him because of his grey unknown international profile, the honour is rather questionable.
  • If he's chosen mainly because he's going to be grey and not putting any of the European government leaders in the shadow of his spotlight, the honour is rather questionable.
  • If he's chosen because Europe needs a wise worker who seeks in the background the different aspects of a problem and unites different opinions towards a common view without seeking a show....they might have chosen the correct profile and have found added value.
Time will tell I suppose but he's got the advantage being able to define his new role with quite some liberty.

Time will also tell whether this appointment catapults Belgium back into political instability or not. The C&DV suggests bringing Yves Leterme back into the seat of Prime Minister which immediately causes already a lot of opposition on the Frenchspeaking side of Belgium just like the previous years.


Lilacspecs said…
As an American I only felt it just to act as condescending as possible towards the attitude Britain's media took towards Belgium.

Cause really, we kicked there butts a couple hundred years back. I'm not sure why they continue to think they're so special.

And if they're so anti-EU, why don't they just leave it?
anno said…
Congratulations, Belgium. It will interesting to watch, to see which of his qualities are most in demand in the days to come...
Betsy said…
I hope that they chose him for the fourth reason you gave.

There are a lot of people in the Netherlands today who are breathing a sigh of relief that Balkenende won't be leaving-- they need his steady hand now more than ever!

On the one hand I'm glad to see Van Rompuy voted in because he's a very interesting choice. On the other hand, I really wonder what this means for Belgium because he seems to have been a very calming influence over the past 11 months!
Snooker said…
Congrats to Belgium!
And thanks for filling me in with more information about the man at the top of the EU. I was "off the grid" when all of this politics was happening, so I didn't get to learn as much.

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