Van Rompuy helped to calm his linguistically divided country [EPA]

Born in 1947 in Brussels, Herman Van Rompuy was educated at the Jesuit Sint-Jan Berchmans College in the Belgian capital, and studied philosophy and economics at the Catholic University of Leuven.

Before entering politics, he worked at the Belgian central bank from 1972 to 1975.

He was chairman of the Christian People's Party, a centre-right Flemish party, from 1988 to 1993 and was budget minister from 1993 to 1999 under the Christian Democrat-led government of Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Regarded as a budgetary hardliner, critical of government plans to spend its way out of a recession, he brought Belgium's debt down sharply from 130 per cent of gross domestic product in the year he took office.

Turkish opposition

He was appointed prime minister of Belgium in December 2008.

He was seen as a frontrunner for the EU post after helping to calm his linguistically divided country, which had witnessed 18 months of turmoil under his predecessor and fellow Christian Democrat Yves Leterme.

There are concerns that with his appointment as EU president Belgium risks a return to political deadlock and heightened tensions between French- and Dutch-speakers, with no obvious candidate to replace him.

Van Rompuy is believed to share the strong opposition of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to Turkey joining the EU.

Five years ago, during a debate in the Belgian parliament, Van Rompuy said he viewed the EU as a Christian club with no room for Turkey and its mainly Muslim population.

"Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past," he said.

"The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey."

The author of six books, Van Rompuy is an avid blogger and keen poet. He is best known for his haikus, a 17 syllable form of Japanese poetry.

Two of his poems have been translated and published in the Wall Street Journal.

Source: Agencies