The first President of the European Union is Herman Van Rompuy, former Prime Minister of Belgium. For a while it was thought that the first President of the European Union appointed by the European Council would be former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair, to some, was an obvious candidate in that he was known internationally and had ten years experience of working in the international community. However, others believed that he was too controversial as he had taken the UK into war with Iraq and was seen by some as a political poodle to America. Herman Van Rompuy was seen as a less controversial choice – a safer pair of hands who has described himself as a “grey mouse”.
For the time being, the position of EU President is seen as nothing more than symbolic. However, the EU President will be the obvious spokesman for the EU and its policies and what is said by the EU President will be closely analysed by both EU supporters and detractors.
Van Rompuy took up the position in January 2010 aged 62. The permanent position of EU President replaces the system whereby a member state of the EU held the position for six months before it was moved to another member state. The creation of a permanent President came out of the Lisbon Treaty – as did the permanent position of Chief Foreign Minister for Europe, which went to Baroness Ashton. Critics of the move claim that the creation of a permanent EU President is a move to greater centralisation of power towards Brussels at the expense of member states. Van Rompuy has stated that the European Council has no executive authority and that this authority rests with the European Commission.
The first major issue faced by the EU President was the economic crisis in Greece whose currency is the Euro. Van Rompuy guided the negotiations that led to a bailout of the Greek economy and claimed that such work showed the strength of the EU in that it did not allow the economy of a member state of the EU to collapse. In years gone by a collapsed national economy that has had to stand by itself has led to social dislocation and the rise of right-wing political parties. While the Greek economy is yet to stabilise, supporters of the EU argue that this is exactly what the EU should be doing as it brings economic stability and therefore greater political stability to Europe as a whole. Critics of the EU argue that the bailout of Greece does not address the real economic issues within that nation and that the bailout is merely dressing over the wounds. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants strong sanctions imposed on member states that breach budget targets. She also wants the EU to have the right to throw out member states from the ‘EuroZone’ if they are one of the sixteen nations that have adopted the Euro. As EU President Van Rompuy has expressed his belief that expulsion from the ‘EuroZone’ is wrong. However, he has also stated that this is only his view and that it cannot be imposed on the EU:
“She (Mrs. Merkel) can have her point of view………. Personally I don’t agree with expulsion as a sanction. But that is my personal view and we have to wait for the discussion (among member states).
As EU President Van Rompuy has stated that the most pressing issue for the EU over the next few years will be economic convergence within the EU to maintain its competitiveness within the global economy. Critics of the EU will see this as a statement for greater economic union within the EU especially as it came at the same time as Mrs Merkel called for a new treaty for the EU that would give the European Council “economic governance” over the EU. Parties such as UKIP have stated that they believe that this would be the start of a central EU economic policy imposed on all member states which would all but end any independent economic control of their own economies by individual member states. To counter this the EU President has publicly stated that any new treaty would have to be signed and agreed to by all member states.