On 19 November 2009, the Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy was appointed the first permanent President of the European Council, also referred to as “President of the European Union (EU)”. From 1 January 2010 onwards, he will take on this job for the next 2,5 years at the least. The function of President of the European Council was created by the Treaty of Lisbon, which will enter into force on 1 December 2009 after the Czech Republic ratified it as last member state of the EU on 13 November 2009. Until now, the function of President of the European Council rotated between the 27 member states of the EU every six months.
The reactions on Van Rompuy’s nomination were divided. For some people, Van Rompuy was the ideal person for the job, others were more sceptical. In particular the British press, who pushed their former Prime Minister Tony Blair forward as a candidate, were rather negative and sometimes even hostile. “Britain ruled by a Belgian? You must be joking” was the headline on the front-page of the Daily Express on 18 November 2009.
In exercising his function, Herman Van Rompuy will be assisted by the British Catherine Ashton, who was designated High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR). This appointment is a compensation towards the British for the non-nomination of Tony Blair. Indeed, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown supported the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy on condition that the position of HR was given to a Briton.
Catherine Ashton was born on 20 March 1956 in Upholland, Lancashire. Being a member of the British Labour Party, she became a life peer in 1999, taking the title Baroness Ashton of Upholland. She took on ministerial positions in the Department for Education and Skills and in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Ministry of Justice. On 28 June 2007, the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed her Leader of the House of Lords. Her main achievement in this capacity was the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon through the House of Lords. In October 2008, she became Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission, where she replaced Peter Mandelson.