Wednesday

24th Aug 2016

EU chooses unknowns for new top jobs

  • Mr Van Rompuy (r) and Ms Ashton were chosen for the top posts on Thursday evening (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders have chosen Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to be the first president of the European Council, while UK trade commissioner Catherine Ashton will become the bloc's foreign policy chief.

Welcoming the decision on Thursday evening (19 November), Swedish leader Fredrik Reinfeldt said: "What we were seeking were people to create continuity" and "to be the voice and face of Europe throughout the world."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Mr Van Rompuy, from the centre-right political family, is a trained economist and has been running Belgium for less than a year. He writes Haiku (Japanese verse) and is known for his low-key style, which includes a line in self-deprecatory humour and caravan holidays.

He came to prominence after Germany and France a few weeks ago agreed between themselves to promote him. Several diplomats subsequently suggested that his short term in office stood to his advantage as he has had no time to make enemies among other EU leaders.

The presidency decision - nominating a person from a small country with no international profile - confirms the speculation of recent weeks that the majority of member states wanted to choose a person whose main role will be that of an internal fixer, rather than someone who can open doors in Washington and Moscow.

Mr Van Rompuy underlined his low-key approach by saying he intended to be "discreet" and that his personal opinions were "subordinate" to the council.

He talked up the importance of member states and their diversity and noted that he would "put forward the positions that the council has approved" at international meetings without stepping on the toes of the European Commission president.

Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, emerged relatively late in the race to be the EU's top diplomat. Her name appeared after UK foreign secretary David Milliband, the preferred candidate at the beginning, said he was not interested in the job.

With the EU president being a man, from a small country and from the centre-right, Ms Ashton balances the scales in terms of gender, coming from the left and being from a big country.

Balancing these criteria is a part of any major EU decision, with conservatives laying claim to the presidency post early on in the game and the left later saying the top diplomat should be one of their own.

Ms Ashton, trade commissioner since October last year, has no foreign policy experience and has never held a senior ministerial post.

She said it was a measure of "her slight surprise" that - unlike Mr Van Rompuy - she did not have a prepared speech but pledged to "represent [European] values across the world."

Ms Ashton, who still has to be approved by the European Parliament, highlighted her skills by pointing to her success in negotiating a free trade agreement with South Korea, the EU's largest ever bilateral trade deal.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. HuaweiMaking cities smarter and safer
  2. GoogleHow Google Makes Connections More Secure For Users
  3. EGBAThe EU Court of Justice Confirms the Application of Proportionality in Assessing Gambling Laws
  4. World VisionThe EU and Member States Must Not Use Overseas Aid for Promoting EU Interests
  5. Dialogue PlatformInterview: "There is a witch hunt against the Gulen Movement in Turkey"
  6. ACCAACCA Calls for ‘Future Looking’ Integrated Reporting Culture With IIRC and IAAER
  7. EURidNominate Your Favourite .eu or .ею Website for the .EU Web Awards 2016 Today!
  8. Dialogue PlatformAn Interview on Gulen Movement & Recent Coup Attempt in Turkey
  9. GoogleA Little Bird Told us to Start Tweeting About Google’s Work Across Europe. Learn More @GoogleBrussels
  10. Counter BalanceThe Trans Adriatic Pipeline: An Opportunity or a Scam in the Making for Albania?
  11. Counter BalanceThe Investment Plan for Europe: Business as Usual or True Innovation ?
  12. Belgrade Security ForumMigration, Security and Solidarity within Global Disorder: Academic Event 2016