As the UK heads for a showdown with the EU,
Cameron should beware Herman van Rompuy:
he does not take ‘no’ for an answer
If there is one thing everyone agrees about in relation to Herman van Rompuy, it’s that what you see is most definitely not what you get – in almost every sense.
From the day of his installation by a Franco-German cabal last year, the unelected President has done nothing to change his image as a quiet consensualist who writes 17-syllable Japanese haiku poetry. The image is almost entirely unrelated to reality.
In a meeting with HVR, for example, you may observe various statements made, views given and decisions taken…..only to find the media told later in the day that something entirely otherwise occurred…and always to Herman’s advantage.
Following a relatively short Brussels session in early February which discussed the chaos in Athens (and which was itself, the Slog understands, largely anarchic) van Rompuy sent a round-Robin letter to all EU national leaders claiming that eight points had been agreed and signed off. He was the only person in the room who left the meeting with that impression.
HVR insisted in the letter that he’d been given the right to lead any EU team at all future G20 bunfights. “That was described by one other in the room as a fantasy” said the Slog’s Brussels mole. The Daily Telegraph has seen the letter involved, and quotes from it thus:
‘There was agreement allowing me to effectively and forcefully represent the EU position in this important forum’. Incandescent reactions followed. “He has only a foreign policy remit” a senior Eurocrat told our informant, “and not a single person in the original meeting remembers his G20 attendance being discussed at all”.
Politicians from his Belgian past as a Christian Democrat are forceful in their confirmation of this view of a man widely underestimated – and equally widely disliked.
“He sounds modest but really he gathers power insidiously” said one, “I’m told he was asked at the age of six what he wanted to be, and he replied ‘the President'”.
Particularly consistent among informed observers of the man is the assertion that ‘consensus politician’ is a euphemism for ‘unprincipled technocrat’. Author Paul Bielen writes of him:
‘He is devoid of patriotism and contemptuous of democracy”.
This is the precise view obtained by UK journalists at a press briefing HVR gave in London earlier this week. Asked about consultation with the EU’s electorates regarding national fiscal plans in the future, the Belgian replied, “There is no time for this, we must move on. I am not here to have elections, I am here to see this thing is done.” Indeed.
‘His career has been a series of shabby compromises. These brought him high office, but proved he had sold his soul. I have known him since the mid 1980s, and recognise Van Rompuy as a man of powerful intellect and profound cynicism.”
The disturbing thing about Herman’s lobbying in the last week is that he appears to have got both the Germans and the French onside. His innate arrogance managed to persuade him that the UK too would knuckle under. Not only is this not happening, David Cameron and his aides reacted swiftly and bluntly after van Rompuy and a French diplomat presented the vetting scheme as a fait accompli. Van Rompuy said EU finance ministers, meeting in a “task force” he was chairing, agreed to share information on budget concepts in advance.