Herman Van Rompuy is making the rounds of the EU capitals in his role as the European Council’s newly-appointed full-time president. The Belgian former prime minister, due to assume his EU duties on January 1, said during his visit to Finland that it was “important to listen to the views of my colleagues and to hear about their priorities”. In Finland’s case this meant Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and President Tarja Halonen.
Rompuy’s appointment does not need European Parliament approval. Former EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, UK Labour, does. On her second day on the job as the EU’s new foreign and security policy high representative, she faced stinging questions in the bloc’s only directly-elected institution. Ashton said: “Mr Tannock, you began by asking why I should occupy this seat, and the answer is because the 27 heads of government invited me to. I may not be your choice but I appear to be theirs. In terms of the experience and the qualifications in this house, I hold this house in great respct and I do recognise there are people who have enormous experience. I intend to use that experience if I may do so.” After two hours with the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Ashton was told to come back soon with better answers. Briton Charles Tannock, a Tory MEP in the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said: “I thought she gave a very weak response to my detailed and technical questions about foreign and security policy. And I think the reality is that she just does not know the answers yet. I hope she grows into the job. As I said to my colleague as we were leaving, expectations are so low now for Catherine Ashton — Baroness Ashton as she should be more correctly known as — that she may, hopefully, pleasantly surprise us all.” Ashton said she would not be an extension of the British government but would “faithfully reflect” the views of all the EU member states.