European Union leaders have elected Herman Van Rompuy to a second, 2-1/2-year term as president of the European Council, a vote of confidence in the former Belgian prime minister’s handling of the euro zone debt crisis.
The leaders also appointed Van Rompuy, 64, to be president of eurozone summits, two of which will be held each year from now on, on top of the four EU summits that normally take place.
“(I am) very honored that all European Council members have decided to ask me to continue as European Council President for a second mandate,» Van Rompuy said in a statement posted on Twitter. «It’s a privilege to serve Europe in such decisive times; also a big responsibility.”
As Council president, Van Rompuy chairs and prepares meetings of EU leaders, working to build agreement among them, a role that has put him at the centre of efforts to resolve the debt crisis since his appointment in December 2009.
Along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, he is also the chief representative of the European Union at international gatherings, such as the G8 and G20, and speaks on behalf of the EU at the United Nations.
Van Rompuy was a little known figure when first elected and was regarded as an uncharismatic compromise candidate — former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been a frontrunner.
His background in economics and finance — he worked in the central bank and as budget minister before becoming prime minister in 2008 — gave him a strong understanding when the debt crisis struck, and his low-key, consensus-building approach has steadily won over EU leaders.
Some diplomats have suggested the bilingual Belgian acts as too much of a tool of France and Germany, the two most powerful countries in the euro zone.
Van Rompuy has dismissed that criticism, saying he makes sure to consult with all 27 member states on critical issues, while also knowing that no deal is ever possible in the EU without France and Germany being on side.
A fan of Haiku poetry and a committed Catholic, Van Rompuy has described himself as a quiet diplomat and behind-the-scenes facilitator. In an interview with Reuters last year, he said one of his strengths was patience.
“You have to be very patient, because you have to respect everybody,» he said. «Even if he knows he is the biggest player or the smallest player — they are all part of the game.”
Van Rompuy’s second term will keep him in the post until the end of 2014. It cannot be renewed a third time. [Reuters]