President Van Rompuy Proves he is a Man of Vision

Labour Party

You may be forgiven for all the misconceptions you probably have about Herman Van Rompuy, the newish President of the European Council.  He didn’t get much coverage in the UK when he was Prime Minister of Belgium, and most of that written and said about him since becoming President has been negative, sometimes even insulting. 

 President Van Rompuy spoke to the Socialist and Democrat Group this morning, and believe me he is far from lightweight.  His knowledge of economics is outstanding.  What is more, he is capable of strategic thinking and has a genuine vision for Europe, a vision much more in line with British views than you may expect.  President Van Rompuy sees the EU as a grouping of sovereign states with certain common objectives.  I’d certainly buy into that, as I’m sure would the vast majority of people in the UK, except perhaps those on the extreme margins of politics.

 The President showed a rare degree of radicalism this morning, all the more surprising as he is from the centre-right EPP family.  It was his support for the tax on financial transactions which finally convinced me that he is a man we could do business with.  When answering a question from fellow Belgian, Marc Tarabella, it became clear that President Van Rompuy not only supports the “Tobin” tax in principle, but as Belgian Prime Minister he implemented it on a national basis.  You may also be interested to know that the G20 is looking at such a tax and the IMF is preparing a report.    

 The economic issues obviouly revolved around the current downturn.  The President was unrepentant about the EU’s policy of protecting the internal market and the euro and the pursuit of inflationary measures.  He was, on the other hand, clear that we all need to return to balanced budgets in order to pursue social goals such as sustainable pensions and improved health care.  While I would not necessarily support his contention that we need balanced budgets to carry out a social programme, the President does, at least, believe in the social dimension of Europe.  He was also clear that the EU needs to ensure that the new EU 20:20 strategy is successful, unlike the previous Lisbon Strategy which did not achieve anything very much.

 Climate change was the other big topic.  Since Copenhagen has not moved anything forward, Europe needs to keep on working at this agenda.  There were several calls, including one from EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott, for green, sustainable jobs which President Van Rompuy supported wholeheartedly.     

Herman Van Rompuy is an engaging speaker, though like many Europeans he lacks some of the rhetorical flourish so beloved by the British. He gave his presentation in English, he then answered questions in French and understood German as well as his native Dutch.  I wonder how many of us are fluent in at least four languages.  He also listens and made a promise that he would take seriously all the points raised at the Group meeting.

 It’s a real tragedy for us that both President Van Rompuy and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, our own Baroness Ashton, get such a bad press in Britain.  They are both excellent at their jobs.  One socialist MEP said today that Herman Van Rompuy is the right person in the right place.  The same is true of Cathy Ashton, and we would do well to take a leaf out of the books of many other countries in the European Union and support our national appointees.  

 And finally… it was good to see former Labour MEP Richard Corbett sitting at the top table with President Van Rompuy.  Richard is now head of the President’s Cabinet.  Congratulatons Richard.  You deserve your success and we all know you will do exceptional work  for Herman Van Rompuy and, by extension, for all of us involved in the EU.

10 thoughts on “President Van Rompuy Proves he is a Man of Vision

  1. Mary,

    Unfortunately Herman has little discernable personality & his few public appearances so far have been decidedly lacklustre.

    Cathy Ashton is also failing to impress from what I gather – despite your assertion to the contrary. No second language at all – not even schoolgirl French. Herman is a “towering intellect” in comparison!

  2. Mary I think your analysis is spot on.

    “The President showed a rare degree of radicalism this morning, all the more surprising as he is from the centre-right EPP family.”
    Although there are some dreadful right-wingers in HvR’s Flemish Christian Democrats, I believe he has worked well in coalition with Belgian Socialists, so I am not surprised he got on wel with the Socialist Group.

    PS I am a little sad at his opposition to Turkey (for different grounds to Mary’s possible opposition)..

  3. Geoff
    I’m unsure of your source for your assertion on Cathy Ashton but it is wrong she speaks French, not like a native but well enough
    I think it is interesting as to who has put out this dissembling and why so much of the Uk press didn’t bother to check and just kept on repeating the slur.

  4. Mary,

    OK I’ll accept she can speak French – the Economist says so – so it must be true! (Is not speaking French a slur by the way?)

    She made a major blunder by missing the recent defence minister’s meeting though. Shows a poor judge of priorities.


  5. Geoff
    There’s a naughty or perhaps nasty campaign against Cathy. From many other posts on my blog you will see I know Cathy well and have great regard for her capabilities. Cathy outperformed people’s expectations (not mine I predicted her success) as a Commissioner and she will do the same in her new role. It is sad that so many British people including some representatives are not proud we have a Briton in a top role.

  6. We live in a democracy on these sceptred Isles (though there are many claims against this), I shall assume you are a supporter of democracy. With the passing of the Lisbon Treaty a hugely significant amount of our national laws are now decided by members at the EU. These members are elected, as is right, and vote for those they represent. Whom voted for President Herman Van Rompuy? Was it us? No. Was it the whole chamber of elected representatives? No. Is that democratic? No. That is why the British object to him, his personality, character and political standing are irrelevant to our protests.

  7. An interesting if patronising view. You are wrong elected representatives did vote. We live in a Parliamentary democracy where power goes to the Prime Minister who achieved an excellent result with Cathy Ashton becoming head of foreign policy.

    By all means lobby for some elctoral system of referenda as the Swiss have, but I do not detect any desire for it in the British people. Most of the British people I meet do not object to President Van Rompuy.

    I predict in the general election the majority of British people will vote for parties that approve of the current arrangements.

  8. Those who do not favour the EU are often described with phrases similar to the one you used, ‘those on the extreme margins of politics’. It is difficult to see why these dismissive phrases should be made. A poll conducted by ComRes for the BBC last March found that 55% of the UK population support a UK withdrawal from the EU and only 41% favoured staying in it.

  9. As a regular Spiegel reader (though often cheating by reading their English version on-line), I am disappointed by their attitude towards HvR and Cathy Ashton.

    An example…

    European Union Foreign Policy,1518,682339,00.html

    Walking the Thin Line with Catherine Ashton

    The EU’s new top diplomat Catherine Ashton has only been in office for 100 days, but she is already running into stiff criticism. Her detractors claim she doesn’t have enough dedication, stature or independence. But the EU’s leaders chose her precisely because she lacked those qualities. By Walter Mayr

  10. I am not sure where to put this comment, but I note this morning…

    Belgium moves towards burqa ban

    Brussels federal parliament votes unanimously to ban partial or total covering of faces in public places

    I am seriously concerned about this, especially the socialists and greens. I think this is a matter for Muslims to address.

    Is this a matter the Women’s committee should address?

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