Van Rompuy takes centre stage

The EU's new president has made an audacious bid for power by proposing to become the grand host of a monthly get-together of Europe's leaders in Brussels.

In an attempt to quash criticism over his lacklustre leadership, Herman van Rompuy is hoping to put himself in the driving seat of the EU by tripling the number of summits held in the Belgian capital from four to 12 a year.

As he led his first summit of the 27 European leaders on the Greek economic crisis, the hitherto low-profile president made clear his ambition to carve out a far bigger role for himself.

"Let me tell you that the European Council is very ambitious. We want ownership, we want to lead... though, of course, in consultation with member states," he said. "And that's why I proposed that the Council will gather regularly, every month."

The haiku-writing former Belgian prime minister has kept a conspicuously low profile since he began his tenure on 1 January, despite calls over swift action to stem the growing panic over the eurozone economies.

But he seemed determined to cast off his reputation as a behind-the-scenes operator. He shunned the large, bunker-like Council headquarters in favour of the intimate, oak-panelled setting of the nearby Solvay Library to host a closed-door lunch for his guests. The army of advisers and foreign ministers usually in attendance was kept out.

"He'll definitely insist on keeping them out in future, unless there's a very specific reason to have them there. They tend to distract. He wants to create a very personal ambiance and he wants to stay in control of the talks," an EU Council source explained.

But an effort to show off his linguistic prowess by reading out a statement in English and French during an outdoor press conference turned to comedy when technical problems left him re-reading it over and over again as snow swirled around his shoulders.