Tuesday

19th Sep 2017

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."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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.

EU countries cool on Juncker's ideas

There was not much enthusiasm voiced in EU countries after Juncker unveiled his grand ideas about a single EU president and a larger eurozone. Dutch PM Rutte suggested seeing an eye doctor.

Juncker calls for united EU under one leader

The Commission president wants his position to be merged with the presidency of the European Council, and for all EU states to be in the eurozone and Schengen by 2019, post-Brexit.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  2. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  3. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  6. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  7. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  8. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel
  9. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies
  10. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  11. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  12. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package