Herman van Rompuy, the Belgian Prime Minister, has been chosen by EU leaders to be the first permanent European Council President. (photo, from bbc.co.uk)
His job was created by the Lisbon Treaty, as well as foreign affairs supremo. The latter has gone to the EU Trade Commissioner, Baroness Catherine Ashton from the UK.
They are both seen as consensual politicians with little foreign policy experience.
According to Gordon Brown, UK prime minister, both candidates had unanimous backing from the 27 EU leaders at the summit in Brussels.
Before the nominations were announced, the UK government said it was no longer pushing for former PM Tony Blair to get the presidency post.
Van Rompuy had both French and German support. The Belgian PM has a reputation as a coalition builder, having taken charge of the linguistically divided Belgian government and steered it out of a crisis.
‘Britains’s voice loud and clear’
The twist in the British position was revealed by a UK government spokesman. After dropping Tony Blair, the UK persuaded the other six leaders in the socialist group to back the Baroness Ashton.
In order to select their firs full-time president and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, EU leaders met in Brussels. The new posts will come into force on 1 December.
Brown praised Mr Van Rompuy as “a consensus builder” who had “brought a period of political stability to his country after months of uncertainty”.
“I am particularly pleased that a Briton secured the other position. It gives Britain a powerful voice within the Council and the [EU] Commission. It will ensure that Britain’s voice is very loud and clear. It will ensure that Britain remains at the heart of Europe,” he said.
He added that Baroness Ashton (photo, from lemonde.fr) “is the first woman to hold such a high position in the EU.”
As the heads of the 27 EU member nations gathered with various candidates to choose from, after-dinner negotiations were expected to continue late into the night.
Mr Blair had been an early favourite for president and was the highest-profile candidate.
As the meeting got under way, another contender, Dutch PM Jan-Peter Balkenende, ruled himself out of the contest.
Pragmatic rather than charismatic
The appointments were negotiated by EU leaders during a working dinner.
The 27 leaders were reported to be striving for a balance in the two posts : filling one with a candidate from one of the bigger EU states, the other from a smaller country.
Still in order to preserve some balance, the presidency was expected to go to a centre-right politician and the post of foreign affairs chief to the centre-left, as it did.
BBC’s Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says that Mr Blair was an early frontrunner for the presidency. However some leaders feared he would overshadow them and so the mood shifted in favour of a lower-profile name instead.
The EU president will chair regular meetings of the European Council at which decisions are taken about the political position of the bloc.
But correspondents say the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as the post is officially known, could have an even more powerful role.
Baroness Ashton will have a seat as vice-president of the European Commission, a budget worth billions of euros and a new diplomatic service of up to 5,000 people.
Van Rompuy has been described as a pragmatic rather than a charismatic figure. When he was budget minister in Belgium’s Christian Democrat-led government, he took a tough stance on balancing the economic books, which drastically reduced the country’s public debt.
Though Mr Blair had not put himself forward for the role, he had not ruled himself out either.
Currently working as Middle East envoy for the US, UN, EU and Russia, he was earlier described by Mr Brown as an “excellent candidate”.
The UK’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband had been tipped as a possible contender for the job of EU foreign affairs chief, but said he was not available.