Leaders we Deserve: Herman van Rompuy

Herman van Rompuy was appointed the first President of the European Community November with the collective support of its national political leaders. The process and result indicates core values of the EC

In England, all the talk was about Tony Blair. In an earlier LWD post, Dr Kamel Mnisri outlined the case. Within days, the chances of Blair being elected were being discounted.

As Mnisri put it

Detractors would argue that Tony Blair is seen by European leaders as too pro-American. The decision to follow the US and enter into war with Iraq discredited him nationally and internationally. In addition, is it relevant to have an EU president from a country that does not use the Euro?

The recent objection of France and Germany to Tony Blair opened the door for other candidates. The Belgium Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen and especially the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the EuroGroup, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Odds shifted towards van Rompuy in the next few days. One consideration in his favour seemed to have been that a leader from a smaller less powerful State would have fewer powerful opponents than Germany’s candidate.

Gordon backs Tony

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s successor as Prime Minister, had demonstrated for many years how a leader’s most implacable enemies are within his own ranks. In these last weeks of the election for European President he has publicly supported Mr Blair. There was more than a risk of friendly fire during the skirmishes.

It crossed my mind that any political satire would have a scene in which advisors would evaluate the merits of Gordon openly supporting Blair as a cunning plan to win a different game altogether. I leave those who enjoy such speculation to ‘fill in the dots’ and come up with an explanation of how Mr Brown may have exercised some influence in the appointment of Baroness Ashton to the powerful post in Europe of high representative of foreign affairs and security. [Advanced students may want to explore the role played by Mr Mandelson as well as Mr Brown in her appointment].

What the Leaders Said

The public announcements of Europe’s national leaders help capture the stated rationale of the appointment. The quotes (I follow the BBC’s summary) suggest a widespread notion of a leader as someone who is able to transmit the shared values of a community, rather than someone who creates and transforms that community. President Barroso’s quotes reminds us of the important role Belgium played in the foundation of the EC through the work of Paul Henri Spaak as early as the 1940s.

I think it will be impossible to have a better choice. It is also a tribute to Belgium. When selecting the current Belgian prime minister, a man of great qualities as Herman van Rompuy, I think the European [Union] also expressed its gratitude for the work of Belgium and the constant support that this country at the heart of Europe has been giving to our common project.
The idea is to have a leader of the (EU) council… who actually gives room for everyone, who listens to everyone, who creates winners not losers.
He has a reputation for integrity and resolve and… his qualities as a diplomat, as a statesman and as a negotiator will be qualities that he can bring to the European Council and to his new position as president.
He is a man who is profoundly European and I believe it is a very wise decision to have chosen as the first stable president of the council a man who comes from a founding country of the European Union.

Meanwhile in the UK

In the UK, other views were being expressed

The former leader of UKIP, the MEP Nigel Farage branded the EU decision disgraceful. “We’ve got the appointment of two political pygmies. In terms of a global voice, the European Union will now be much derided by the rest of the world.”
However, the appointment of low-profile figures reduces the fears of loss of national powers and the creation of a super-state. William Hague as Conservative spokesman noted it was good to see the appointment of a chairman not a chief. Foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey for the Liberal democrats observed that “With low-profile appointees, no-one can take seriously any longer the Eurosceptic deception that these positions would challenge the supremacy of nation states acting together when they agree.”

Dr Mnisri had suggested in LWD that the appointment of European President will indicate how a decision is made of ‘who will make a good leader’ . This week it has been possible to reflect on beliefs that have helped shape that decision for Europe.

Global Issue

What factors do you think contributed to the decision to appoint Herman van Rompuy as President of Europe?
Note that this article did not contain all the information to address the question adequately. What about the nature of the job? What about the consequences of dealing with other world powers?

9 Responses to Leaders we Deserve: Herman van Rompuy

  1. I think choosing a non-controversial appointment was important – this is the first person to hold what is hoped to be an enduring role. Von Rompuy will be the first to grapple with what this new position means. I wish him well. So far, one day after the announcement, my main concern is his strong dismissal of Turkey’s membership of the EU. I would like to see strong co-operative relations with Turkey and that EU membership should not be ruled out.

  2. Kamel Mnisri says:

    The question about the nature of the job is very important in my opinion. Is it really a big challenge for him to lead the EU? Is he the leader the EU deserves?


  3. Tudor says:

    I’ll take a look at the Rompuy’s remarks on Turkey’s membership. They sound out of character, which makes them interesting. Thanks.

  4. […] Posted on November 25, 2009. Filed under: EU Business News, EU News, European Economy, europe, european-union | Tags: eu, EU News, eu president, eu reaction, european union president, european-union, herman van rompuy, van rompuy | Last week the EU elected its first president Herman van Rompuy, and needless to say in as complex a continent as Europe, the reaction to his ascencion has been mixed to say the least. […]

  5. Robin Gleaves says:

    Tudor (I hope you’re keeping well)

    Within the context of an enlarged EU I think that the time is perhaps right to examine both the election of Van Rompuy (and future more participative pan-EU elections) in the light of that parallel but less consequential set of complex voting heuristics – the Eurovision Song Contest.


    In the V-R case it doesn’t appear to be about a single rational consensus of pro or anti stances but a complex summation of pro- and anti- stances on various issues which tend to result in the criterion of least offensive. So it’s less about their poisition than their lack of a strong position.

    “The bland leading the blind”, if you will. (Blandership or Lea…stoffensiveship?)

    Also, I am personally very perplexed by the point you raise of if there are such things as common European values. My own research has taken in everything from Rokeach’s 36 to Hall-Tonna’s 125 or so, and there is also evidence of within-culture variations (contra-Hofstede) – for example different generations and even different job occupations having different values. When Brown and Blair talk about ‘British values’ they’re usually fairly thin on what these actually are? Do labour and tory voters share the same values, for example?

    I don’t know if you’ve seen the world values survey but it provides another interesting take, claiming to be able to identify different nationalities and block groupings on a fairly simple 2-D value scale:

    See the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World at:

    It even posits a GDP/capita-related values trajectory.

    Plenty of food for thought as ever on your blog. I hope you don’t mind me muddying the waters and await any thoughts you might have on the issues I raise above.

  6. Robin Gleaves says:

    I’ve just heard a UKIP guy quoted as saying the “bland leading the bland”. My point above is meant to be completely apolitical, influenced more by Terry Wogan’s bemusement and amusement as the votes are cast and the block rules that emerge. I always wonder if this will be the model for future european politics.

    The blandership issue is possibly inevitable in democratic politics – is it the least offensive or the most popular who wins? Is it simply satisficing?

    I’m most interested in your views on values. One other point on this is that there is some recognition that values can change over one’s life.

  7. Tudor says:

    The Economist this week [Nov 27th 2009] was at its most petulant in its comments on the ‘non-entities’ appointed, demonstrating EC’s failure to appoint a credible leader.

    I’m reaching the view that there is still some nineteenth century beliefs about the need for and impact of a great leader on events, even among the most sophisticated of commentators …

  8. Tudor says:

    Sorry it took so long to reply. I remembered your comments while re-reading Richard Dawkins book The Ancestors’ tale. (I was looking for something to add to my thinking on social perceptions and Barack Obama).

    His notes on ‘blackness’ ‘whiteness’ and cultural refusal to see things except in ‘black and white’ terms are, as ever, worth looking at.

    Best wishes

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