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Page last updated at 20:05 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009
EU foreign head dismisses critics



The European Union has selected a new president to chair EU summits and represent the bloc on the world stage, as well as a new foreign policy chief. The way was cleared by the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the Czech Republic.

PRESIDENT: HERMAN VAN ROMPUY - BELGIUM

The low-key Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy, had emerged as the frontrunner for the presidency post before being confirmed in the role.

Herman Van Rompuy

He is seen as a consensus-builder who would not upstage the leaders of the big powers who call the shots in Europe. He has been described as pragmatic rather than charismatic and was reportedly backed by France and Germany.

A Christian Democrat, he was appointed prime minister of Belgium in December 2008, having held the position of president of the lower house of parliament since July 2007.

THE PRESIDENT'S ROLE
Chosen by 27 member states by qualified majority vote
Two-and-a-half-year term
Can be re-elected once
Chairs EU summits
Drives forward the work of EU Council of Ministers
Facilitates cohesion and consensus
Represents the EU on the world stage

During his time as budget minister in the Christian Democrat-led government, he took a tough stance on balancing the economic books, drastically reducing the country's public debt.

An avid blogger, the 62-year-old has also penned several books, mainly on social and political issues.

He is seen in linguistically divided Belgium as a unifying force, taking an even-handed approach to resolving conflicts between the Dutch and French-speaking communities - skills that should serve him well in the new top job.


FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHIEF: CATHERINE ASHTON - UK

Baroness Catherine Ashton, 53, has been the EU's trade commissioner for little more than a year.

Her nomination as Europe's first High Representative for Foreign Affairs caps a rapid political rise.

Baroness Ashton

When she was appointed to the Commission her credentials were questioned.

But she is widely regarded to have proved a success in the post over the past year.

She has led trade negotiations with key partners such as China, and argued the case for free trade in the face of the worst recession in EU history.

Before being sent to Brussels, Baroness Ashton held a number of ministerial posts, steadily rising through the Labour Party ranks.

She served in the department of education and the ministry of constitutional affairs before Gordon Brown promoted her to Leader of the Lords when he became prime minister in 2007.

She had a varied career before entering Parliament, starting off in an administrative capacity at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the late 1970s before working in business and as a freelance policy adviser.

She is married to the former journalist and respected pollster Peter Kellner.



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