Herman van Rompuy was President of the European Council until November 2014. The first President of Europe reflects on five turbulent years and looks ahead to Europe’s future. “When I began my work I did not know what colossal challenges I would face.”  “Essentially, my method of working was no different than that of the leader of a country, a state or even a company. I also had to listen, gain people’s trust and propose creative solutions.” These are the words of Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Commission of Heads of State and Government (2009-2014). “Except that more is demanded of you. The stakes are often quite high. In the EU, resolutions can only be made unanimously with 28 member states. As the President, you therefore must ensure that all member states can see eye to eye.”

Difficult times
Van Rompuy recalls two moments when he feared that the Eurozone would meet an unfortunate end. “Europe was under extreme pressure in the autumn of 2011. A political crisis broke out in Greece and the problems in Italy, the third largest economy in Europe, were also intensifying. That led to the resignation of the Greek Prime Minister and of the Italian Prime Minister, Berlusconi. That was a difficult period. The EU came under heavy criticism not just internally but also externally, from the rest of the world. The stakes were high. Because if the Eurozone were to collapse then the global economy would also be at risk. That simply had to be prevented.”

Still work to be done
Van Rompuy does not have much advice to offer Donald Tusk, his Polish successor. “I am not the sort of person who suddenly discovers all sorts of new things about Europe. During my presidency we always tried to do the right thing. I have confidence that my successor will do what has to be done and will do so responsibly. We are dealing with high unemployment, a low level of competitiveness, a difficult financial recovery and consumer confidence that is only slowly getting off the ground… We need growth and jobs. There
must be results, and that’s where the challenge is. If we do not achieve that then Europe’s political stability is in danger.”

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