Belgian PM chosen to be first full-time EU president
Belgian premier Herman van Rompuy has been chosen to become the European Union's first full-time president, diplomats said last night.
The 27 EU leaders also agreed to appoint the UK’s EU commissioner Catherine Ashton as the foreign minister replacing Spaniard Javier Solana.
Baroness Ashton has been the EU's trade commissioner since last year.
The choice of Mr van Rompuy signalled that the leaders were not eager to have a high-profile personality represent the EU abroad.
The two new posts are meant to bolster the EU's influence overseas.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last night Baroness Ashton would also hold the vice-presidency of the European Commission. He told journalists the appointment would reaffirm the UK’s influence in Europe.
“It shows that Britain is at the heart of Europe and it shows that we are leading the way in extending women's representation in the way we have done,” he said.
Mr Brown said he still felt that Tony Blair — whom he backed for the presidency — would have been “excellent”.
“As the week went by it became clear that the EPP (the centre-right grouping in the European Parliament) wanted to have one of their own members as president of the council,” he said.
The prime minister said Mr van Rompuy had a reputation for “integrity and resolve”.
“I said at the meeting that his qualities as a diplomat, as a statesman and as a negotiator will be qualities that he can bring to the European Council and its new position of president.”
He said the UK had secured “the other important position” as High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy.
“It gives Britain a powerful voice both within the council and the commission,” Mr Brown said.
“It will ensure that we will remain, as I want us to be, at the heart of Europe. In this role, Cathy Ashton will have a unique role over the next five years in shaping the global Europe of the future.
“She will be the first permanent chair of the European Union foreign affairs council, she will represent Europe on the world stage in negotiations with the United States, China, India, Russia and other countries and she will be a vice-president of the European Commission, giving her a leading voice on all the commission's proposals.”
Shadow foreign secretary William Hague congratulated Baroness Ashton and Mr van Rompuy and said the Tories would work with them “in the British national interest”.