Herman Van Rompuy, first full-time President of the European Council: “Maastricht was a qualitative jump to further integration.”
On 9 December 2016, it will be precisely 25 years ago that the EU Summit commenced which would lead to the much-discussed Maastricht Treaty. On this day, various top politicians and academics will be participating in a special “EU Summit” in the Maastricht Exhibitions, Events en Conventions Center. One of these notable figures will be Herman Van Rompuy, former Belgian Prime Minister and, from 2010 to 2014, first full-time President of the European Council.
Herman Van Rompuy (born in Etterbeek, Belgium, in 1947) was not present during the 1991 negotiations leading to what would ultimately go down in history as the Maastricht Treaty. Nevertheless, the treaty between what were initially twelve European nations had a major impact on his political career. Before the introduction of the euro, he faced a nigh impossible task as Belgian Minister of Finance: to reduce Belgium’s budget deficit from 7.5 percent to 3 percent of the national income. “Back then, Maastricht stood for austerity, for unpleasant measures that had to be taken to join the euro zone and to meet the European budgetary discipline of the Maastricht criteria,” according to the Christian Democrat.
The former Belgian Prime Minister (30 December 2008 to 25 November 2009) and Member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives became the first full-time President of the European Council in 2010, serving two terms (until 2014).
Van Rompuy – who is a fan of haiku and has published his own volumes of the Japanese verse form – began his political career in 1973 as vice-chairman of the youth chapter of the Christian People’s Party (CVP), since 2001 the Christian Democratic and Flemish party (CD&V). He was elected to the party’s national bureau in 1978. As a young politician, he advised various ministers in the late 1970s and rose to the top of his party a few years later, serving as CVP chairperson from 1988 to 1993.
In 2004, Van Rompuy was designated Minister of State. In recent years he has been awarded numerous honorary citizenships, international prizes and distinctions, including the Charlemagne Prize and the Grand Cordon in the Order of Leopold (Belgium). Van Rompuy is also a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands). In 2015, he was ennobled by King Philippe of Belgium and since then bears the non-hereditary title Count Van Rompuy. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Leuven and CEU San Pablo University.
According to Van Rompuy, the significance of the Maastricht Treaty – along with the Treaty of Rome, the most important treaty in the history of the European Union – must not be underestimated. “For one thing because monetary union ultimately was ‘a qualitative jump to further integration’, as the British would say. We achieved other positive milestones in the EU, for example a more open single market, but Maastricht was truly a major leap forward.”