Blair Loses Out To Van Rompuy As EU President

11:51am UK, Friday November 20, 2009

Miranda Richardson & Philip Thomas, Sky News Online

Tony Blair has lost out in the race to become the first President of the EU Council, with Belgium's Herman van Rompuy getting the job.

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However, former leader of the House of Lords Baroness Catherine Ashton has been named EU High Representative - the European Union's first foreign minister.

Belgian Prime Minister van Rompuy will be the inaugural President of the EU Council.

An agreement was reached at a summit in Brussels after Britain dropped its insistence that former British Prime Minister Blair should become president, ending weeks of deadlock and opening the way to agreement on van Rompuy.

Baroness Ashton's Reaction

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The appointments are intended to bolster the EU's standing and help it match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the global economic crisis.

Mr Van Rompuy, 62, and Baroness Ashton, 53, are low-profile compromise candidates little known outside the EU.

Baroness Ashton said: "I am very honoured and proud to have been asked to take on this role.

"It is a challenge. I was the first female UK Commissioner, first female trade Commissioner and now first female High Representative. I will make sure I represent our values across the world, and I will endeavour to do in my own way the best that I can."

She said her style and approach was "quiet diplomacy to get things done".

The new President of the EU Council has been prime minister of Belgium for only a year, but in that time has won high praise for bringing his country's long-divided Flemish and French-speaking communities closer together.

Sky's political editor, Adam Boulton, said: "We should stress that Tony Blair has never said that he was a candidate, so technically he has not been rejected.

Herman van Rompuy

Herman van Rompuy

"However, it is known that Gordon Brown, his closest and most complicated friend in politics, was advocating him for the job and it is unlikely he would have done it against the will of Mr Blair.

"This is a political setback for Mr Blair.

"He will continue in his lucrative private life in his charity and foundation work, but it means that somebody who is frankly not a very well-known figure at all in Britain, Baroness Cathy Ashton, could be on the brink of getting a very big job."

City Minister Lord Myners told Jeff Randall Live: "I think it's very good for Europe and it's very good for the UK.

"The High Respresentative position is an important one and Cathy Ashton has clearly impressed our colleagues in the other member states in Europe by her strong skills in negotiation, advocacy and administration.

"I think it's wonderful for Britain and for Europe."