Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Van Rompuy to retire from EU politics next year

  • Van Rompuy remains committed to the German narrative of fiscal consolidation (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy on Sunday (17 March) said he will retire from politics when his mandate ends next year.

"At the end of 2014, it's the end of my political career," the former Belgian prime minister told Dutch-language public broadcaster VRT.

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The hobby-haiku writer quipped that for those "wanting to vote for a Van Rompuy", there will be several members of his family on various political lists.

Van Rompuy's brother Eric and his son Peter are both members of the regional Flemish Parliament from the Christian Democratic Party, while his sister Tine is a leftist politician and his wife Geertrui a local councillor in a Brussels suburb.

The 65-year old politician was elected in 2010 as the EU's first permanent president of the EU council, a new position created by the Lisbon Treaty. His 2.5-year mandate was renewed in 2012. Under EU rules, the EU council chief can only serve two terms, meaning Van Rompuy cannot stand for re-election in November 2014, when his mandate ends.

A virtual EU unknown when he took office, Van Rompuy has won the respect of other EU leaders for being treating all member states fairly. He remains modest and media shy, preferring behind-the-scenes negotiations to press conferences and interviews.

As a Christian Democrat, he remains committed to the German narrative of fiscal consolidation and competitiveness to get out of the euro crisis, meaning budget and wage cuts, despite the social upheaval in southern European countries.

Last week as anti-austerity protests filled the streets of Brussels, with demonstrators occupying the headquarters of the commission's economics unit, Van Rompuy tweeted: "Engaged in long distance race. Made huge progress, climbed mountains seemed insurmountable. Closer to finishing than to starting line."

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who could run for another five-year term next year, has indicated she will also step down, Germany's Der Spiegel reports.

Ashton, a former EU trade commissioner with no foreign policy experience, was the surprise appointee after a long negotiation among EU leaders in 2009, when all top posts were up for grabs. Being a woman, British and from the Labour Party were the three main criteria that trumped other candidates, who may have had more experience for the job.

With more than one year to go until the next horse trading for top EU posts, names are already being floated for the Van Rompuy or Ashton successor, such as Danish former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose mandate at the helm of Nato is also ending next year.

European Parliament chief Martin Schulz is meanwhile tipped to become the Socialist candidate for the European Commission chief. Viviane Reding, a vice-chair of the commission and a justice commissioner is also eyeing the top job as a candidate for the centre-right EPP.

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