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Belgian PM is First ‘President of Europe’

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Brussels, Belgium (CNN) — Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, has been appointed the first “president of Europe,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Thursday.

Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom is to become the EU’s foreign minister, Brown said.

The leaders of the 27 member states of the European Union made the decision behind closed doors in Brussels Thursday.

Van Rompuy, a soft-spoken fan of Japanese poetry, beat out contenders including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for a post whose duties are not yet clear.

The Belgian is “well known as a consensus builder,” said Brown, who added the selection was unanimous.

Brown had realized earlier that Blair did not have enough support among key decision-makers to snag the new post, a Brown representative told CNN earlier.

The post was created by the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty — which came into force this month, after years of torturous negotiations, as a replacement for the rotating six-month presidency of the bloc.

Although the EU prides itself on being a club of democracies, the process of choosing its new leader was far from transparent or open.

The people of Europe had no say, not even through their parliamentarians.

Blair started as the favorite. He was, according his backers (who at first included President Nicolas Sarkozy of France) just the sort of glamorous figure, recognized the world over, who would win attention for the EU and enable it to exercise its weight in world affairs.

As one Indian official said before the announcement: “If the EU chooses as its worldwide representative the prime minister of Belgium or Luxembourg I am not sure our leaders will have the time to meet him.”

But others were soon arguing that, as former U.S. President George W. Bush’s leading ally over Iraq, Blair is a divisive figure in Europe. The one man who might have been able to take Britain into the European single currency, he had not even attempted to do so while he was Britain’s prime minister.

Public backing from Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, a joke figure to much of Europe and another Bush ally, did not help.

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