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15th Aug 2020

New EU president plans first official trip

Correction: EUobserver was initially informed that Mr Van Rompuy's first trip as president-elect would be to Latvia and Finland. But it later learned that the first engagement will in fact be in Denmark.

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The newly-appointed president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, will mark his first semi-official engagement in the role when he visits Denmark next week.

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  • Mr Van Rompuy arriving in Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall earlier this month (Photo: premier.fgov.be)

The trip, to Copenhagen, on 30 November was originally planned for Mr Van Rompuy in his capacity as Belgian prime minister as part of a grand tour of 26 EU capitals in preparation for Belgium taking up the rotating EU presidency in mid-2010.

But following his appointment to the EU post last week, Mr Van Rompuy is to step down as Belgian leader on Wednesday (25 November), handing back the baton to former Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme.

Mr Van Rompuy will not formally begin work as EU president until 1 January. But his staff told EUobserver that he plans to go to Copenhagen anyway in his interim capacity as EU "president-elect."

"Mr Van Rompuy, as president-elect, will most likely accompany Mr Leterme," Mr Van Rompuy's spokesman, Dirk De Backer, said.

When asked if the trip will mark his first engagement as EU president, Mr De Backer added: "You could see it that way. But I don't think he will give them [the Danish leaders] any explanations about his presidency. It's just to meet the leaders and to get to know them."

The new EU head is also planning to visit Portugal, Slovenia and Italy on 1 December in the same capacity, as well as Latvia and Helsinki on 2 December and Lithuania and Estonia on 9 December.

The grand tour began with visits to Ireland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany earlier this year. It is unclear if he will visit the remaining EU capitals next year.

Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Leterme are to hold meetings with Belgium's King Albert II on Wednesday, after which Mr Leterme is expected to announce his return to power in a speech in parliament at 5pm local time.

Mr Leterme was elected prime minister in 2007 but struggled to form a coalition government and was later forced to resign due to allegations of misconduct in a bank scandal, of which he was subsequently cleared.

The 49-year-old Flemish Christian Democrat is seen as more of a pro-Flemish partisan than Mr Van Rompuy in what could aggravate divisions in the hybrid French and Dutch-speaking country.

In a famous gaffe during a public ceremony in 2007 he sang the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, by mistake instead of the Belgian anthem, the Brabanconne, which has its roots in Belgium's French-speaking south.

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