"I had conflicts with France and Germany"

European leaders have confirmed Belgium's Herman Van Rompuy for a new term as European Council President. Mr Van Rompuy gave his first broadcast interview to VRT's Europe editor Rob Heirbaut.

Mr Van Rompuy conceded that he had underestimated the task before him. He thought he would have to chair four meetings a year and would be able to work on strengthening Europe's institutions. Instead Europe was immediately confronted by the Greek debt crisis, a crisis that is still to be resolved.

The European Council President believes that if the Greek crisis can be sorted Europe will arrive in calmer waters: "This will allow us to work on the strengthening of European structures to avoid any repeat of the present crisis. We will have time to deepen our monetary and economic union."

Mr Van Rompuy insisted that last time round he had only accepted to take on the job after being repeatedly asked: "Three days earlier I refused the offer. When 26 countries asked me I couldn't refuse. My job is not complete. That's why I'm accepting a second term."

"We have already made considerable headway, but must now embark on a second phase concentrating on the strengthening of the economic and monetary union."

Quizzed about being the poodle of Ms Merkel and M Sarkozy President Van Rompuy stressed that France and Germany had always wielded considerable influence: "I don't hang out the dirty washing. I have had conflicts with France and Germany. We settled the arguments behind the scenes. I employ my usual method of working behind the scenes."

Asked about greater dissatisfaction with Europe among ordinary citizens Mr Van Rompuy pointed to a loss of credibility on two fronts, among those who have to pay the bill and those who undergo austerity: "The only answer you can give is that people will view matters differently once the crisis is sorted. We are experiencing hard times, but will be judged on the results.”

Mr Van Rompuy is elected by the 27 member states, not directly by the people. The Council President sees pros and cons: “Candidates from small countries will stand little chance in a wider election.”