Herman van Rompuy profile: Belgium's diffident haiku poet steps from the shadows

Belgian parliamentarians cheered and applauded their departing Prime Minister as he headed off to be anointed in his new role. Wearing a loose-fitting suit and a look of surprise tinged with |amusement, Herman van Rompuy cut a diminutive figure among his boisterous colleagues.

Unusually in this divided country, Flemish nationalists teamed up with Walloon socialists to salute their unlikely national hero. In a nod to his premier's famous love of verse, one MP recited the opening stanza of a Flemish poem as a tribute, which Mr Van Rompuy then spontaneously completed.

Despite stints as budget minister and deputy prime minister, he has chosen to spend much of his long political career well away from the limelight, beavering away behind the scenes to cut deals between his country's bickering French-speaking and Flemish communities.

It was this skill of quietly brokering compromises that prompted King Albert II to summon the Christian Democrat on a cold December day at the end of 2007, when the country was gripped by political tensions so great there were fears that Belgium would split in two.

Almost immediately and imperceptibly, Mr Van Rompuy brought calm to the troubled waters. This despite his initial reluctance to accept the job in which three others had failed that same year, and just at a time when he was looking forward to his retirement, indulging his love of reading and caravanning.

That retirement has now been postponed once again. "I undergo all of this with mixed feelings," the 62-year-old told reporters ahead of the dinner summit where he was crowned "Mr Europe".

"He... operates in the shadows. But just because he prefers to stay away from the public glare doesn’t mean he’ll be altogether invisible," said a former ministerial colleague, Johan Vande Lanotte. "But he might find |it hard to adjust to the faster pace |of the EU."

Other colleagues praise Mr Van Rompuy's wry sense of humour and cynical take on the daily political goings-on, when he often throws in |a tongue-in-cheek aside. But his unique trademark is his passion for composing haikus, a form of Japanese poetry, which he publishes in a leading Flemish daily.

"Hair blows in the wind/after years there is still wind/sadly no more hair," has become his most famous composition, but the bulk of the haikus are miniature odes to nature and the outdoors, a setting in which he seems most at home.

"He seems like the least obvious choice but he’ll be full of surprises. He's furiously intelligent and he'll take a stand when needed," said one diplomat. "Europe just needs to get to know him."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee