- Last Thursday, the European Union's 27 national leaders unanimously appointed Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to be the first-ever EU president—markets yawned in response.
- Van Rompuy's appointment likely won't shake up European politics, highlighting the wariness of national European leaders to concede real political power.
- Van Rompuy's priorities include tackling climate change and lowering unemployment.
Last Thursday, over a dinner of truffles and sea bass, the European Union's (EU) 27 national leaders unanimously appointed Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to be the first-ever EU president.
Setting aside the dubious procedure of picking a continental leader over supper, our guess is Van Rompuy will prove about as bland as the sea bass. He's widely regarded as more discreet and less vocal (read: feckless) than the other candidates, and his reputation for being a haiku-writing "mediator" confirms it.
But who exactly is the talented Mr. Van Rompuy, and what does he bring to the EU presidency? His own words may be best:
A fly whisks and hums
dipping and diving round the
room. It hurts no one.
Like his whisking fly, Van Rompuy's appointment likely won't shake up European politics. His skills seem more suited to smoothing internal affairs than taking a dominant, leadership role in global politics. Expectations for a powerful new EU president were high—not surprising given the position was created by the very hard-fought and drawn-out Lisbon Treaty ratification. However, the Van Rompuy selection highlights the wariness of national European leaders to concede real political power.
So what can we expect out of Van Rompuy? We doubt he'll supplant the more established Sarkozy or Merkel in global politics. His lauded conciliatory and diplomatic nature means he probably won't be stepping on too many political toes—making him more of a figurehead than head of state. He's said his priorities include tackling climate change and lowering unemployment. Other tasks during his two-and-a-half year term include arranging the EU bloc's annual summit and liaising with European leaders. No wonder markets yawned in response.
For now, the EU is signaling it's more interested in taking small steps toward unity (and to some extent, continuity) rather than tidal changes. The slower and smaller changes are, the more easily markets can swallow them without indigestion. Time will tell how Mr. Van Rompuy fares. In the meantime, here is a parting note of welcome:
Congrats on the job.
Can't wait to hear more haikus,
and whisks of fly wings.