Belgian-British duo wins race for EU's top jobs

08:36, November 20, 2009      

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Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (C), whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, holds a Rubick's cube showing the pictures of newly-appointed EU President Herman Van Rompuy (L) of Belgium and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (R) at the end of an extraordinary summit in Brussels November 19, 2009. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's picture is also featured on the Rubick's cube. [Agencies]

BRUSSELS: EU leaders on Thursday handed the European Union's top new jobs to two little-known compromise figures — Belgium's prime minister and the EU's trade commissioner — dashing hopes of those who wanted to raise the continent's global profile.

The choice caps years of choppy efforts to give a united Europe a voice on the world stage commensurate with its economic heft. The EU leaders agreed on trade commissioner Catherine Ashton of Britain as the EU's new foreign policy chief and Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as its president, diplomats said.

But their appointments suggested the need for compromise outweighed the desire for big names like Tony Blair, the former British leader who was once considered a leading contender for the presidential job.

The two new officials are supposed to give the EU a bigger role in such global issues as climate change, terrorism and trade.

The two top jobs were created by an EU reform treaty that takes effect in less than two weeks, on Dec. 1. The treaty is vague on what the EU president is supposed to do, other than encourage more European integration.

While the EU president was initially seen as the bigger job, much attention has shifted to the foreign minister, who gets a say over the bloc's annual euro7 billion ($10.5 billion) foreign aid budget and will head a new 5,000-strong EU diplomatic corps.

Ashton, who has never been elected to public office and is largely unknown outside Britain, had seemed an unlikely choice. She won the foreign policy brief after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and left-leaning leaders from Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Portugal and Austria decided to put her name forward.
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