European Union leaders congregated in Toronto June 26th and 27th in a Group of 20 meeting to address the struggle of economies world-wide. Those leaders agreed to take steps toward job growth, the reform and strengthening of financial institutions like banks, and economic stimulation world-wide. At its conclusion, Presidents José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy declared the meeting a success – the premier forum for international cooperation. Earlier in June, Van Rompuy announced two additional upcoming meetings; one in September on foreign affairs and one in January and February 2011 to deal with energy issues.
As of December 1, 2009, the European Union's Treaty of Lisbon aspires to mold and uplift the 27 member nations of Western Europe into a more powerful single voice on the world stage. On January 1, 2010, Herman Van Rompuy went from obscure prime minister of Belgium to first appointed Permanent President of Europe.
Permanent President of Europe? That's right; and not by public election, but by appointment of the members of the European Council. The "permanent" appellation is cloudy; Van Rompuy's 30-month term leading the council ends in May 2012.
"As president of the European Council, I will listen to every country and make sure every country comes out a winner in every negotiation," Van Rompuy told the press last fall when he was first appointed as the EU's first full-time president.
Van Rompuy is known in Belgium for his inscrutable, mouse-like, mild-mannered exterior and his self-deprecating humor. He was in office in Belgium just a year and managed to keep Flemish- and French-speaking factions of the country from tearing the nation in two through conciliatory methods. Yet his past antics of political subterfuge indicate much more to his inner man than just a guy who composes haiku during parliamentary meetings.
Unassuming Van Rompuy has a history of getting his way. He advises that the path to power is to appear innocuous and unobtrusive, yet his methods have at times appeared more underhanded than meek. His critics point out that he broke a major 2007 campaign promise to split up his own political party's illegally proportioned election district, and he did so purposely and quietly. As Speaker of the parliament, he delayed a vote on the proposed district split, going so far as to have the locks changed on the session meeting rooms so that dissenting parliamentary members could not meet, He avoided his own office for over a week (purportedly) to avoid opening a related letter from concerned opponents. His opponents assert that he works not for the interests of the people, but for big government.
Herman Van Rompuy is an enigmatic, camera shy man who avoids elaborate public statements and media exposure. Van Rompuy is a federalist who wants the individual nation-state symbols, flags, and currencies to be set aside in exchange for one set of European icons. He is geared to meld the EU nations into a single economy and body, even against individual nations' objections to one federal government and the new taxes that come with it. Van Rompuy said last autumn, "The financing of the welfare state, irrespective of the social reform we implement, will require new resources. The possibility of financial levies at European level needs to be seriously reviewed."
Van Rompuy is pushing for Brussels to collect one Europe-wide Euro tax on financial transactions based on the unpopular Tobin tax. It could look a lot like an American national sales tax. Opponents of such a tax include Poland - which is not one of the eleven "insider" eurozone member countries and therefore fears losing power to them - and Great Britain, which has traditionally balked at surrendering its currency to the Euro.
Van Rompuy is currently working to assemble a taskforce of European leaders within the economic union of the eurozone of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Eight other states are obliged to join the eurozone once they fulfill the strict entry criteria.
It will be very intriguing as US citizens to watch the European economy, freedoms, and spending over the upcoming months and years. Will Herman Van Rompuy, Gordon Brown, Jose Manuel Barroso lead Western Europe to an undeniably one-man or one-entity governed superpower, or will the countries and the individuals in them be weakened by too much governance and a loss of their own freedom of choice and enterprise?
Related Links: Herman Van Rompuy Biography - European Council