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Reactions from across the Channel

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By Matthias Vileyn "A Belgian Eurofederalist who likes to raise taxes will be the boss of Great Britain". What started as a press campaign against Herman Van Rompuy clearly failed, paving the way for bitter reactions across the North Sea. But were they really so negative?

Last night, the first reactions from British press coming to our ears made us understand that the answer to the question was a firm yes. A journalist from one of the newspapers that launched an attack against Van Rompuy the last couple of days, apparently wasn’t amused with the decision to appoint Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton.

They call it a ‘typical EU stitch up’, when ‘two people the Europeans never heard of are getting the top jobs’. Additionally, they saw a quite grim future: "I don’t suppose the EU will become more open or democratic. People in Britain probably will be alarmed and the support for the Union will tumble even further. Let’s hope his plan of raising taxes won’t stand".

The press campaign against Van Rompuy thus failed. "Clearly the decision was already a long way ahead when the campaign started".

The withdrawal of British support for Tony Blair wasn’t a real surprise either. "It was inevitable, I guess. He had a lot of enemies within Europe", according to the newspaper.

But what about Catherine Ashton? Of course she’s British! "She’s a typical faceless European bureaucrat, who was never elected. The only reason why she might get the job is because she’s British." Looks like not everyone shares the enthusiasm...

And what about Gordon Brown then? He came to Brussels to defend Tony Blair and clearly failed. "He would have been an excellent candidate, but it became clear that the European People’s Party wanted one of its own members for the job of president". Additionally he mentioned that the nature of the job had changed in the course of the debate, saying the Swedish presidency redesigned it.

Mr. Brown came here thus with two priorities. One was "to protect the interest of Britain and to make Britain proud". The other was to "demonstrate Britain is still at the heart of Europe", something he kept on insisting during the whole press conference.

After the mandatory congratulations for Mr. Van Rompuy – where he praised the man as a consensus-builder with political tolerance, integrity to resolve issues and where he said he was an excellent diplomat, statesman and negotiator – Brown quickly turned his focus to the appointment of Mrs. Ashton as EU High Representative.

He couldn’t stop insisting the importance of the job, reminding people of the additional position of the High Representative as a vice-chairman of the European Commission and insisting this is a very strong position for the UK: "You should be pleased we secured this position".

The fact that it was the first woman to have such a high position, made him state "another barrier of discrimination is been hauled down".

Yet, the media gave Brown quite a hard time, forcing him to downplay the role of the new President of the EU. This clearly is a man under siege at home.