As such, a letter just sent to Private Eye (aimed at that publication’s always entertaining Pedantry Corner):
In Eye 1254, Brussels Sprouts begins with “The new EU Spanish presidency (not to be confused with the EU’s first actual president, Herman Van Rompuy)”. Dull grey Herman is not “actually” the EU’s first president, for such a position does not exist. He is instead the first permanent president of the European Council – assuming you can call a two-and-a-half year posting with a two term limit permanent – a pretty much powerless post whose duties primarily lie in chairing the (roughly) quarterly EU summits between the heads of government of the EU member states.
The President of the European Council is not the only post in the EU to be styled “president” (heard of José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission? Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament? the rotating six-monthly national presidencies that the Brussels Sprouts piece was actually about?). Indeed it’s arguably the least powerful of the four EU presidencies, as he doesn’t get to initiate legislation (like the Commission president), nor vote upon it (like the EP president), nor does he technically have any power to outline policy plans (like the rotating national presidencies).
Hell, Van Rompuy isn’t even the first President of the European Council – the position used to be filled by the head of government of the member state which held the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers, the Consilium, or just the Council – related to but separate from the European Council, and not, of course, to be confused with the Council of Europe), and so the first President of the European Council was another Belgian, Achille Van Acker, from January to June 1958.
I know that the EU’s mind-numbingly boring and complicated (see above), and that “EU president” has become a convenient shorthand in the British press ever since the kerfuffle over Tony Blair possibly getting the post, but it is not “actually” accurate to refer to Van Rompuy in that way.
(Cue even more pedantic people than me to point out that the first European Council meeting took place in 1961, making its first president *yet another* Belgian, Gaston Eyskens. But that’s always the way of these things…)