Herman Van Rompuy was elected permanent President of the European Council at the summit held on 19 November 2009. Less than two weeks later, he took up his post. Here he answers questions on his new role, what he hopes to achieve during his term as President and what issues he will put his energy into.
You were recently elected President of the European Council, a completely new role. What are your ambitions?
I only want to contribute to optimising the European Council's capacity to deliver leadership for the EU. The European Council is the institution that sets the direction for the EU. We must form a group, a circle, that agrees with itself and works for the same cause, the European Union. We must also lay more emphasis on the political decisions that go beyond our traditional conclusions. We must send the public a clear and visible message. We have already worked on that, and we will continue to do so.
What will be the first major issues that you want to address?
I believe the economic issues - how best to coordinate to counter the adverse impact of the crisis on jobs and on public finances, how to plan strategies for the next stage once recovery is secured - will top the agenda of the Heads of State or government for the months to come. Because I think we must attack the major issues systematically and that we need to have the opportunity to discuss them in-depth and in an open way, I intend to convene an informal meeting in February where the economic and social agenda will be the main topic.
But the European Council also has a number of other issues on its table, from the aftermath of Copenhagen to energy challenges, our aspirations for greater security and justice for all our fellow citizens and international issues.
What do you hope to have achieved when the term is ended in two and a half years?
I hope that working with my colleagues we will be able to harness the potential of the European Council as the forum where clear, coordinated leadership for Europe is drawn up. If the EU is to reap the benefits of the Lisbon Treaty - more effective institutions able to deliver concrete results for citizens and to enable Europe to « punch its weight » internationally - the European Council has a key role to play. I will work with the President of the Commission, the President of the European Parliament and the six-monthly presidencies of the Council to that end.
How did you feel when you found out that you had all the European leaders' support and were elected President of the Council? What passed through your mind?
As you know, I have not sought this position. But as it became clear there was unanimous support for my name, I accepted it, and have now taken it up with conviction and enthusiasm. I also found it difficult to relinquish the direction of my country, but I also see the decision as a mark of recognition towards Belgium, which, as a founding State, has dedicated itself constantly to the construction of Europe.
How do you prepare yourself for this new job?
As you can imagine my diary is filling up at a brisk pace… A first priority for me has been to talk to my European Council colleagues. Since 1 December, I have toured Europe to meet a number of them, and I will continue in January. Although I have met them in European Council meetings as Belgian Prime Minister, it was important for me to see them individually and informally and to listen to their views and priorities. I intend to consider everyone’s interest and sensitivities. Our work must deliver results for everyone. I will now take up my position to the full as of 1 January. I want to thank Fredrik Reinfeldt for the good cooperation during the "transition" period and for his effective handling of the entry into force and implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.