The EU President: Stumbling into the Post-Lisbon Era

BRUSSELS -- The designation last week of two relatively unknown figures for the highest posts in the European Union led to widespread criticism across Europe.

At a heads of state meeting in Brussels on Thursday evening, the 27 member states of the EU designated BelgianPrime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council, and Britain's EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton as high representative for common foreign and security policy (HR).

Van Rompuy is credited with putting an end to a lengthy political crisis between Belgium's francophone and Flemish communities that virtually left the country without a government for the second half of 2007. An economist and philosopher by training, he is considered a smart politician who acts behind the scenes, while avoiding publicity. In short, he is not the kind of person who seeks, or attracts, the attention of the media and political pundits.

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