Quiet Belgian poetry buff made master of the euro

24th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A quiet devout Belgian with a love of Japanese poetry is the somewhat unlikely new master about to crack the whip at nations sharing the single currency, to keep the euro in line.

Herman Van Rompuy, 63, currently European Union president and a former Belgian premier, was handed the added job of "president of the euro summit" by 27 EU heads of state and government at a Sunday summit aimed at resolving the euro crisis.

There was scant detail on his new duties, other than to chair twice-yearly euro summit meetings and "keep the non-euro area member states closely informed of the preparation and outcome of the summits," a statement said.

When Van Rompuy was named EU chairman late 2009, under the bloc's new Lisbon Treaty rule-book, critics said it was his very modest amount of charisma that most appealed to European leaders.

A technocrat as the face of the new EU posed no threat to leaders parading through Brussels.

Slammed by detractors as the "invisible president" or "Mister Nobody", slender Van Rompuy with his priestly demeanour is skilled in the art of backroom diplomacy and says he was never given a mandate for political prominence, whatever the federalists say.

He has however earned a reputation for being not only a discreet, but also an able negotiator.

Given a 30-month mandate to head the unwieldy EU bloc, the Flemish but francophile politician in his 11 months at the helm of Belgium stabilised a country deeply split between its Dutch-speaking north and poorer French-speaking south, earning kudos as a Mr Fixit.

Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit sees the quiet Belgian as "the puppet of European governments", others as the creature of the bloc's leading duo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

As master of the euro, he is more than likely to remain close to the two capitals that power the bloc.

Born in 1947, Van Rompuy was taught by Jesuits and studied Thomas Aquinas before dedicating himself to economics, politics and Haikus, the 17 syllable form of Japanese poetry.

A father of four, he has never cut a ruthless figure in Belgian political circles -- a factor certainly not lost on the EU leaders.

Just days before taking the prime minister's post he said he was not in the running.

He was hardly more loquacious about his chances of becoming Europe's "George Washington."

"Already in 1994 I found myself faced with this question. I did not wish it then. In 15 years, I have not changed my mind. Politics is not everything in life," he said before his 2009 anointment.

© 2011 AFP

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