Balkenende congratulates EU president

Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende has congratulated Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy on his appointment as first president of the European council of ministers.

‘I am very pleased there was a speedy and unanimous decision and that the issue did not come to a vote,’ Balkenende told reporters after the dinner at which Van Rompuy was chosen.
Balkenende said he had known Van Rompuy for 20 years and that he is very suitable for the job. He is a ‘driven’ man, the Dutch prime minister said.
Not a candidate
Balkenende had himself been tipped for the position but said both before and after the meeting that he was not a candidate and had not been asked to be one. Despite his protestations, some Dutch newspapers say Balkenende had mounted a behind the scenes campaign.
At home, Liberal MP Edith Schippers said Balkenende had been damaged by his involvement. ‘You never look good if you go for another job,’ she said. ‘It is also a pity for the Netherlands because we won’t have a general election.’
Socialist party leader Agnes Kant also said it is a shame there will be no elections in the Netherlands. But Balkenende has not lost face, Nos tv quoted her as saying.
Smaller countries
Deputy SP leader Harry van Bommel said the party is ‘not unhappy’ with the choice of Van Rompuy. ‘It means the interests of the smaller countries will not be snowed under. More than that, he does not have presidential ambitions so we will not get a ‘superstate president,’Van Bommel was quoted as saying in the Volkskrant.
But Alexander Pechtold, leader of the Liberal democratic party D66 said the prime minister would have to work to restore his reputation at home.
And he criticised Van Rompuy for being someone ‘without opposition, but also without ambition, programme and plans’. ‘It is a missed chance for Europe,’ he said.
Commission job
Trouw points out that the Netherlands will now go all out to make sure it gets a heavyweight post on the next European Commission.
The Netherlands currently holds the post of competition commissioner and Neelie Kroes is keen to have a second term.
‘If she does not get the job, it will be a diplomatic mistake of the first order,’ D66 leader Pechtold said in Trouw.
The NRC reports that current commission president José Manuel Barroso also wants Kroes to get a second term. However, the paper says, Barroso may want to move her to the economic and monetary affairs job and move its current commissioner Joaquín Almunia to the competition ministry.
That is why Kroes said on Wednesday she would consider ‘another economic portfolio’, the NRC said.

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