December 10, 2009 3:18 pm

Van Rompuy urges Europe to double growth

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s newly appointed full-time president, called on European Union governments on Thursday to double their economic growth rates in order to ensure the survival of “Europe’s way of life” – or social market economy.

In his first big public speech since his appointment last month, Mr Van Rompuy also said a global climate change agreement could form the basis for what he called “a kind of world governance”.

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Mr Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister, was speaking at a congress of European centre-right political party leaders in Bonn ahead of the start of a two-day EU summit in Brussels.

“What is at stake is the survival of what has been so painstakingly built up. We must at least double the poor growth rate of 1 per cent projected for our economies ... a strong economy is necessary not only so that we can play our part in the world but above all to safeguard the achievements of our European way of life.”

Mr Van Rompuy will serve a two-and-a-half year term as EU president, with the possibility of a second term of identical duration. EU leaders deliberately chose him as a low-profile consensus-building figure rather than a better-known but more controversial personality such as Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister.

“I did not find the job, it found me. I did not seek it, but it sought me,” Mr Van Rompuy said. He was given pride of place at the congress of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), sitting between Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president.

Speaking about the world Copenhagen climate conference, he said an agreement there could provide the basis for some kind of world governance. “Globalisation demands multilateralism more than ever before,” he said.

He described himself as a strong supporter of further enlargement of the 27-nation EU, saying: “We must hold open the prospect of membership for the western Balkans ... it is a top priority.”

He did not, however, include in his remarks a reference to Turkey, which is an official candidate for EU membership. Participants at the EPP congress said Mr Van Rompuy might have omitted to mention Turkey because some centre-right parties, such as Germany’s Christian Democrats, are opposed to Turkey’s membership.

Noting that he would not take up his positon officially until January 1, he said: “Even after that I will speak only on behalf of the EU and when I am convinced I speak with a broad consensus.”

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