WASHINGTON (CN) – European Union nations appointed Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy as the union’s first president and Catherine Ashton from Britain as its first foreign policy chief on Thursday, but many are calling the unanimous selection a setback for Europe’s political unity.
The two new positions created under the hard-fought 2009 Lisbon Treaty gave Europe an opportunity to face the world as a unified political force, but the selection of such unfamiliar candidates, both specializing in economics, seems to have dashed such hopes.
Rompuy was an economist before he took the position as Belgium’s prime minister less than a year ago. And Ashton is currently the European Union’s trade commissioner, with almost no foreign policy experience.
The appointment of two mostly unknown economists passed up the opportunity for Europe to have a familiar face and a strong political personality to push its agenda on the global stage, and shows that the union is most interested in continuing the economic partnership that it was built upon.
After a string of agonizing wars, economic interdependence was promoted after World War II as a way of fostering political cooperation within Europe. Many had hoped that after years of development, that political unity could be translated into a strong face to the world.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was initially a candidate for the presidency, but he was ultimately rejected. Blair’s appointment to the presidency might have garnered more support for the union from the semi-isolationist British.
Some have suggested that powerful European countries like France and Germany aren’t interested in ceding power to a stronger European government, and that this played a role in the selection.
All 27 members of the European Union voted for Rompuy and Ashton, who are scheduled to take office at the beginning of next year.