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EU gets President, foreign affairs chief

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COMPROMISE CHOICE: Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commissioner for Trade Catherine Ashton after their election in Brussels on Thursday.
COMPROMISE CHOICE: Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commissioner for Trade Catherine Ashton after their election in Brussels on Thursday.

Vaiju Naravane

PARIS: Belgian Prime Minister, the modest and self-effacing Herman Von Rompuy (pronounced Rumpoy) has been elected to be Europe's first President, while Britain's Catherine Ashton has been named the 27-member body's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

In designating two almostunknown personalities to theposts, the European Unionhas set aside its ambitions fora strong diplomatic voice forEurope which would placethe world's most powerful economicbloc on par with otherworld powers. Major Europeanplayers like Germany,France or Britain have thusensured that they will continueto play a major role inworld politics.

The European press on Fridaylambasted the compromisewhich resulted in aconsensus choice of the twocandidates, while criticismpoured in from EU watcherswho were hoping for strongleaders. Thus, hopefuls withexperience and a world profilelike Britain's Tony Bair,Luxemburg's Jean ClaudeJuncker or the Dutch Jan PeterBalkenende were passedover in favour of the utterlynondescript and timorousMr. Von Rompuy whilenames like Britain's DavidMilliband or Italy's Massimod'Alema were set aside for thepotentially powerful post ofHigh Representative for ForeignAffairs and Security Policy.

"Europe's leaders assertedthe supremacy of the nationstate: the new President andforeign policy chief would bethe servants, not the masters,of the national capitals," commentedThe Financial Times

"The broader lesson of theirnomination last night is thatEurope's leaders do not havemuch appetite for creatinghigh-profile new jobs in Brussels,"the paper added. AcrossEurope there were cries ofdisappointment coupled withthe feeling that their leadershad sold Europe short.

The former French PrimeMinister, Michel Rocard, describedthe choice as "catastrophic".He said in a radiointerview: "They had alreadyinflicted several mortalwounds on Europe whosetwitching body was in the lastthroes of agony. This was thefinal coup de grace."

Jean Quatremer, the respectedEU correspondent ofleft-leaning daily Liberation,described Mr. Van Rompuy as"a purely decorative element".

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, thepopular Green Euro MP fromGermany, said: "Europe hastouched rock bottom. Afterhaving appointed a weakPresident of the EuropeanCommission in the person ofMr. Barroso, the heads ofstate have now nominated abland EU President and aninsignificant High Representativefor diplomacy. EU leadershave continuedweakening the EU's institutions."

The German press wasscathing about the EU leaders'choice. "Can these twopersonalities incarnate the‚lan that our leaders promisedus? The clear answer is`No'," wrote the influentialFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

French opposition leaderFrancois Bayrou said the BelgianPrime Minister was chosen"because he is colourlessand would allow Ms. Merkel,Mr. Brown and Mr. Sarkozyto do what they wish."


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