The first EU president

19 November 2009

As I left Brussels this morning, the police were setting barriers near Schuman, where the European Council (Justus Lipsius) building is located. The EU governments and politicians are deciding on its first president. Perhaps persident is a misnomer, since the president’s job is to chair the meetings of the European Council. How much power and influence he or she can wield and exercise will depend on his or her ability and personality.

The favourite for the post at the moment is the current Belgian prime minister, Mr Van Rompuy. He is probably considered a safe pair of hands. Governing Belgium, even if a small country, is not an easy job, which requires pleasing both the Dutch and French speakers, in a complicated constitution. He became the Belgian prime minister after the Fortis affair, and handled the fall-out reasonably well. Having worked at the central bank, he has good grasp of financial and monetary policies. Mr Van Rompuy is more of a Dutch/Flemish-speaking pragmatist than a French-speaking ideologue: he’s not in the mould of the two Jacques, Mr Delors and Mr Santer. Not as charismatic and charming as another touted candidate, Mr Blair, Mr Van Rompuy still has his haiku, and seems to enjoy a bit of irony. He’s not a faceless bureaucrat as he is portrayed in some quarters. All in all, he is a candidate who would not displease too many people. He would not be a leader but a competent negotiator between the different states and different visions of the EU.

Later today or tomorrow, we should learn who the first EU president will be.

Update 20:00

Mr Van Rompuy has indeed been appointed the first EU president