Belgian PM Named as EU President

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Al Jazeera English

Belgian PM Named as EU President

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Belgium's Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy arrives at a news conference after being elected EU President during a EU leaders summit in Brussels November 19, 2009. European Union leaders named Van Rompuy as the bloc's first president on Thursday and appointed Briton Catherine Ashton as its foreign affairs chief. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium's prime minister, has become the first president of the European Council.

Van
Rompuy, largely unknown outside his native Belgium, was named after a
consensus was reached at a meeting of the leaders of the 27-member
European Union on Thursday.

"I
did not seek this high position, I didn't make any steps to achieve but
from tonight I take on this task," he told a news conference.

The
meeting also agreed to back the candidacy of Catherine Ashton, the
British EU trade commissioner, for the foreign policy role.

Britain
dropped its bid to to get Tony Blair, the former UK prime
minister, appointed to the presidency earlier in the day after it
became clear that centre-right countries, who dominate the EU, were
determined that the role should go to someone from their group.

"When
it became clear that because of the various political considerations
and varying views among the rest of the members, then the prime
minister made the forceful step of proposing Catherine Ashton for the
high representative's position," a spokesman for Gordon Brown, the
British prime minister, said.

Presidential role

The
debate over the appointments had focused over what role the president
of the European Council should play, with many arguing that the role
should go to a technocrat who can build unity and consensus.

The
Lisbon Treaty which created the new post was vague on its powers and
obligations, saying simply that the president should "drive forward"
the EU's work.

Van Rompuy will serve a two-and-a-half year term, which is renewable once.

Glyn
Ford, a former Labour member of the European parliament, told Al
Jazeera that building a political presence in Europe was one of the
challenges a new president would face.

"Europe is bigger than the United States, its richer than the United
States, it gives more to the developing world than the United States by
far. But we don't actually have the political presence," he said.

"Now how do you develop that political presence?"

'Missed opportunity'

Marco Incerti, a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy
Studies, told Al Jazeera that the appointments marked a missed
opportunity for the European Union.

"Because it had been known for some time that Mr Van Rompuy would be
appointed as president of the European Council people were hoping that
for the foreign minister job we would get somebody a bit better known,"
he said. 

"There is nothing wrong with Catherine Ashton herself, but she lacks international experience.

"For a post like that of foreign minister of the European Union
having been in a comparable job for some time, having built networks
... could have been useful.

"I think there were many names on the shortlist that fitted the job
description a bit better and I am afraid that this is one more case in
which horse-trading has prevailed. It was matter of giving the position
to a Socialist in turn of the president of the council to the
centre-right."

 Source:

Al Jazeera and agencies

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