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Welcome, to Mr. and Ms. Europe

You probably never heard of the new president and foreign policy chief of the European Union – Belgian Herman Van Rompuy and Briton Catherine Ashton. That may be their strength.

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Drum roll, please. After much fanfare, the European Union has its first permanent president and its first foreign policy chief – and few people have ever heard of them.

The EU president is the haiku aficionado and prime minister of Belgium, Herman Van Rompuy. The "high representative" of foreign policy is Britain's Catherine Ashton, the EU trade commissioner with little experience in foreign affairs. They are consensus builders, not household names, even to Europeans.

That may not be so bad.

Since the cold war, the EU has ballooned into an indigestible collection of 27 member countries, bulked up by former Soviet states whose increasing numbers have made this key political and economic club increasingly difficult to run.

That's why the member states expended sweat, tears, and years coming up with a new treaty that would smooth the inner workings of the EU and give it more clout in global affairs.

Two key features of the "Lisbon Treaty," which takes affect Dec. 1, are a longer-serving president to replace the current six-month rotation and a single "foreign minister" (instead of two similar posts) to give the EU one voice abroad and more influence.

The heads of the member states, who selected these two top choices Thursday night, apparently value consensus-building over clout – and their own political influence over that of stars who may overshadow them. Witness the failed campaign to make former British Prime Minister Tony Blair the new EU president.


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