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New leaders of the European Union

With the last obstacle to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty removed last month, the top EU jobs are rapidly being filled in Brussels. On 20 November, at an extraordinary summit held over dinner, European heads of state expressed their support for Herman van Rompuy as President of the Council of the European Union and for Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and concurrently as a vice-president of the European Commission.

Both van Rompuy, acting as Belgian Prime Minister at the moment of appointment in the EU position, and Baroness Ashton, acting as EU Trade Commissioner for the past year, are described in the international press as “quiet diplomats”. This is actually also the core criticism coming from most analysts on this executive decision. The choice for the two positions is said to reflect the reluctance of European heads of state to choose high-level charismatic EU leaders, out of fear of being outshadowed by the latter.

Though more low-key in style when compared to former counter-candidates like Tony Blair or Jean-Claude Juncker, van Rompuy possesses one very important quality: he is a pragmatic consensus builder. Judging on the role that the President of the Council has to play under the Lisbon Treaty, it is hopefully this very skill that convinced European leaders that the former Belgian Prime Minster is the best candidate for the top job.

As far as Baroness Ashton is concerned, she will need a vote of approval from the European Parliament, together with the new European Commission. So far, her nomination already triggered a host of negative reactions in the European legislative. It will be interesting to follow these developments.

European Commission