(Reuters) - Here are some facts about Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who on Thursday became the European Union’s president.
Van Rompuy, 62, emerged as the strongest centre-right candidate. Although he has been prime minister for less than a year, after coming to power following a banking crisis, he has proved a steady hand running a difficult coalition.
— Van Rompuy helped calm the linguistically divided country after taking charge in December 2008 after 18 months of turmoil under predecessor and fellow Christian Democrat Yves Leterme.
— He had been president of the lower house of parliament from July 2007 and was at times critical of Leterme’s government. — He was budget minister in 1993-1999 under the Christian Democrat-led government of Jean-Luc Dehaene and brought Belgium’s debt down sharply from 130 percent of gross domestic product in the year he took office. Regarded as a budgetary hardliner, he was critical of government plans to spend its way out of a recession.
— Born at the end of October 1947 in Brussels, he was educated at the Jesuit Sint-Jan Berchmans College in central Brussels, then studied philosophy and economics at the Catholic University of Leuven.
— Before entering politics, Van Rompuy worked at the Belgian central bank from 1972 to 1975.
— He was vice president of the Flemish Christian democrat (CVP at the time) Youth section from 1973 to 1975 and from 1978 he was a member of the National Bureau of the CVP.
— He became CVP chairman from 1988-1993.
— Van Rompuy is a Catholic and has often gone on religious retreats in the Abbey of Affligem (Flemish Brabant) to renew his faith and meditate.
— Viewed as an intellectual, he is the author of six books. He is an avid blogger. His expertise in the Japanese-style 17-syllable verses known as haiku, written in Flemish, has also made him famous as the poet prime minister. Two of his poems have been translated and published in the Wall Street Journal.
Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit and Philip Blenkinsop