EU President gets Obama’s thumbs up
US President Barack Obama welcomed the appointment of the EU’s first president Thursday, saying it would make Europe an “even stronger partner” for the United States.
Obama, who returned Thursday from a trip to Asia, issued his congratulations after the 27-member European Union named Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy the first ever full-time president of the European Council.
Former EU trade commissioner, Britain’s Catherine Ashton, was named as high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
The appointments “will strengthen the EU and enable it to be an even stronger partner to the United States,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House also sought to allay fears that US-EU relations will become less important as China rises and perceptions linger of Europe as a divided continent.
“The United States has no stronger partner than Europe in advancing security and prosperity around the world,” the White House said.
In a separate statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the appointments as “a milestone for Europe and for its role in the world,” and described Ashton as “my new counterpart.”
“I look forward to working closely with them to strengthen and broaden our partnership — from achieving stability in Afghanistan to securing Iranian compliance with its nonproliferation obligations and promoting a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, among many other shared objectives,” the top US diplomat said.
“With the appointment of these distinguished leaders, I am more confident than ever that together we can build a more peaceful and prosperous world.”
Unknown pair ‘not strong enough’
But the appointments caused consternation in some quarters, in particular the traditionally ‘eurosceptic’ British press
Some papers called them lightweights who may struggle on the world stage.
Papers also protested the behind-the-scenes process of selecting the two new leaders in Brussels late on Thursday
EU leaders picked little known Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy as Europe’s president with a mission to give the continent a greater world profile.
Catherine Ashton from Britain’s ruling Labour Party became the EU’s foreign policy supremo after Britain dropped its campaign for ex-prime minister Tony Blair so that Van Rompuy got unanimous approval at the Brussels summit.
In backing Blair for the post last month, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Europe needed a president who “stopped the traffic”.
But the Financial Times said Van Rompuy and Ashton “would struggle to stop traffic in their own towns,” and the appointments cast doubt on whether they would able to compete in Washington and Beijing.