Saturday

22nd Feb 2020

Van Rompuy and Barroso leave EU stage with porcelain plates

  • The departing politicians with their plates

Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso said goodbye to EU leaders on Friday (24 October) after attending their final summit as presidents of the EU council and commission.

For the Belgian Van Rompuy it marks almost the end of an almost 5-year term in which he worked behind the scenes to keep the EU united as it went through its deepest-ever economic crisis and tried to find solutions from preventing it ever happening again.

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He was the first ever permanent president of the European Council, meaning the poetry-writing politician got to define the parameters of the job, making it a chairman rather than presidential post and preferring to be low-key.

"Politics is a rough trade" he noted but said he had been given loyalty and respect by colleagues. "I am leaving with the feeling that I have done all that I could."

He recalled the bitter negotiations on the EU's longterm budget as requiring the most political skill and, like Barroso, remembered the pride of collecting the EU's Nobel peace prize.

"Not only is my mandate coming to a close but so is my political and public life which has filled a large part of my life," said Van Rompuy, who formally steps down on 30 November.

He added, in his typical style, "in my life I have never had the feeling of being irreplaceable. There was a European Council before me. There will be a European Council without me."

Barroso, whose term finishes next Friday (31 October), noted that he had attended 75 EU leader summits since he became commission president ten years ago.

He said that how the EU had evolved over the years made him optimistic about its future, and spoke of "great" and "very difficult" moments over the past decade.

The Portuguese politician, who was generally regarded as reactive rather than visionary president, spoke for longer at the final press conference than Van Rompuy and mentioned that he had gathered his "testimonies" which could be downloaded "for free".

An earlier ceremony among leaders saw the two leaders given porcelain plates as gifts a long with a signed 'family photo' of all the leaders.

Van Rompuy's plate was inscribed with one of his Haikus (Japanese poetry form) about Europe, written in his native Dutch; Barroso a plate with his motto "Let's build Europe together".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a little speech on behalf of everyone. She was chosen, she said, because she was now the longest-serving EU leader.

She said Barroso worked as a lynchpin between the EU main institutions and reminded member states of the rules "whether we liked it or not" and said leaders would "miss" having Van Rompuy at the helm.

While it was the two politicians' last summit, the meeting is most likely to be remembered for a row with Britain over it having to pay an extra €2bn towards the EU.

Prime Minister David Cameron, in a podium-banging press conference, said he would not pay it by the 1 December deadline.

The dispute escalated because it was initially unclear how the figures were arrived at.

Barroso spent much of his final press conference as EU commission president going through the finer details of EU budget calculations for member states.

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