Tuesday 24 November 2009

Van Rompuy, European Council President

A few days ago, Van Rompuy was a little known, everyday, average Belgian Prime Minister... but now he's the President of the European Council! Ok, so it's not all that dramatic, and thank god it isn't.

Despite my first impression, really, I can't complain too much with this appointment: though I'd have preferred Freiberga or Juncker, I have argued for a low-key Presidency, and that the Council itself is the legitimate electoral college for the choice (though of course that in itself wouldn't stop me from disagreeing with the choice). Van Rompuy has a good record as a consensus builder, and has proven able to hold the linguistically divided country together; surely good experience for the role of a chairman steering the Council agenda to some sort of workable conclusion. He's very unlikely to claim much of the media's attention, which is both good, in that it will defuse the chance of a conflict between the Council Presidency and the Commission Presidency (and probably even with that of the High Representative); but perhaps also bad in that the clear constitutional separation will mean that the media will have little inclination to highlight the different positions between the Council and Commission. Hopefully it will still lead to a bit more of a clearer representation of the differences between the Commission, Council and Parliament in the media, though I'm not sure I'd be willing to put money on it.

Still, the first few days have revealed a certain potential for controversy - particularly over Van Rompuy's opposition to Turkish EU-membership and his support for the idea of an EU tax. Controversies probably won't arise too often, since Van Rompuy is likely to stick to his brief and just represent the decisions reached by the Council publicly, though he could prove to be influential on issues such as Turkey (could France and Germany try to use his opposition as a front to deflect criticism for any anti-Turkish moves on their part?). In any case, Van Rompuy needs to be careful, since his statements will colour the impression of the EU both within and without: it is, at its heart, the most diplomatic post in the EU.

In any case, with the European Council Presidency in safe enough - and dull - hands, the High Representative, Baroness Ashton, will be even more interesting.


  1. Conor, you note a couple of Van Rompuy's "pet" EU ideas. There are others, perhaps worse. However, since his role is essentially that of a coordinator, he won't have much opportunity to push his own agenda. For sure he may "test" his ideas but they won't be on the table if one or more of the powerful (ie France, Germany, UK) leaders don't like it.

  2. I agree - my main worry was that he could muddy the waters over what the Presidency can and cannot do, but after listening to more of what he's said, I think he'll stick to whatever remit the Council gives him.