The European Union has named unassuming Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy as the new full time President of the European Council, while Britain’s Catherine Ashton becomes foreign policy chief.
The decision was taken at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels ahead of the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty in December. Van Rompuy envisaged a tough tenure ahead: “We are living through exceptionally difficult times. The financial crisis and its dramatic impact on employment and budgets, the climate crisis which threatens our very survival. A period of anxiety, uncertainty and lack of confidence. Yet these problems can be overcome by a joint effort between our countries.” Baroness Catherine Ashton takes up the foreign affairs job after serving as trade commissioner for just over a year, she said: “ We have to look at the European External Action Service, this brand new bringing together of what we currently do and in a sense adding value to what happens with the individual member states. So that’s going to be very significant. And of course, the big key relationships that we have across the world, which we will need to make sure that we foster and develop for the future.” Both are seen as undemonstrative, consensual politicians. US President Barack Obama said the announcement would “strengthen the EU and enable it to be an even stronger partner to the United States.”