Europe names Belgian PM as first President

Europe names Belgian PM as first President

Brussels: European Union (EU) leaders picked little known Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy as Europe’s first president with a mission to give the continent a greater world profile.

Catherine Ashton of Britain became EU’s foreign policy supremo in the new team after Britain dropped its campaign for former prime minister Tony Blair so that Van Rompuy got unanimous approval at a special leader’s summit called to make the appointments.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the appointment of an EU president saying it would make Europe an “even stronger partner" to the US.

“This is the new leadership team of Europe," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld, flanked by Van Rompuy and Ashton, speaking after the dinner summit.

Van Rompuy said he regretted giving up the Belgian premiership, but accepted the challenge of managing member states frequently at odds over competing national agendas. He said he would be a president “with conviction".

The nominations prompted accusations that the EU leaders had chosen lightweight representatives for the heavyweight bouts that lie ahead on issues such as the economy, climate change, nuclear power and the war in Afghanistan.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, rejected the suggestions at a post-summit press meet. “It is so important that Britain remains at the heart of the European project and Cathy Ashton brings the global visions that Britain has," he said. “She is our foreign minister."

Ashton, who only became the EU trade commissioner in 2008 but has swiftly earned a reputation as an effective negotiator, said: “Judge me on what I do and I think you will be pleased and proud of me."