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Monday, 23 November 2009

How Green Is New Council President?

The leaders of the 27 EU Member States have unanimously chosen current Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to fill the new position of President of the European Council.   Although praised as a ‘consensus-builder’ and one not likely to overshadow national leaders, Van Rompuy has faced criticism from some quarters over his opposition to Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that a Muslim country would threaten Europe’s Christian values.  An economist by training and a federalist by conviction, Van Rompuy’s environmental credentials are still relatively unknown.

With Sweden’s pro-environmental presidency of the EU coming rapidly coming to a close, EU observers are wondering what effect the appointment of this relatively unknown and low-profile candidate will have on European environmental policies over the next few years.   His success in reducing Belgium’s public debt during his term as finance minister in the 1990s makes him a good candidate for President in this time of economic crisis, but what about the climate crisis?

The focus during his 11 months as Belgian Prime Minister has been on financial recovery and on mediating between the warring factions of the Flemish and Francophone parties.  While we haven’t been able to pick up a clear focus on environment, his vision of Europe includes the importance of climate policy.  In an address to the Federation of Belgian Enterprises at their European Business Summit in March this year, Van Rompuy set out his view that Europe should be a leader on climate change through committing to ambitious emissions reduction targets and that climate must be integrated with financial stimulus packages in order to ensure a sustainable and competitive future. 

Van Rompuy will attend next month’s Copenhagen summit on climate change along with other EU leaders, but with his new role still untested, it is uncertain how much clout he will have in the company of global heads of state from the US and Asia.  Europe’s leaders have deliberately chosen a President whose own position and personality is more diplomat than mighty statesman, and as such it seems likely that Van Rompuy will not be strongly pushing an agenda of his own, but rather striving to maintain a consensus between East and West, left and right and large and small countries within Europe. 

Let’s hope that the legacy of the Swedish presidency of the last 6 months will be a guiding force among European politicians as we head into Copenhagen and that this Belgian haiku poet can guide Europe into a new era of political and economic stability.

Image: Le Nouvel Observateur

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