Van Rompuy, Ashton new pan-EU leaders

Low-key Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy has been named the new full time President of the European Council, and Briton Catherine Ashton has been designated the EU’s first consolidated High Representative of Foreign and Security Policy. 

These decisions were taken at a summit of the European Union leaders, in Brussels, ahead of the implementation of the bloc’s Lisbon reform Treaty this December 1, which created the top jobs.

Van Rompuy said: “There has been much debate about the profile of the future President of the European Council’s meetings but only one profile is possible, and it is one of dialogue, of unity and of action.”

Ashton said: “If I can begin by saying it’s perhaps a measure of my slight surprise that I don’t have a written speech for you. But I’ve never been short of words to say and this evening is no exception… For me working with both the Council and the Commission will be a challenge. Being the first will be a challenge. I was the first woman British commissioner, the first woman trade commissioner, so I’m also proud to be the first woman high representative of Europe.”

Merit aside, while gender fairness was high up the agenda, the top job considerations included north-south preferences, country sizes and on which side of the political centre the candidates stand, as well as the style of personalities. The institutional reform goal is to make the EU function more efficiently and to give it stronger influence in world affairs.

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