Laureation address: Professor Herman Van Rompuy

Tuesday 21 June 2016


Laureation by Rector Catherine Stihler for Professor Van Rompuy, recipient of the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws 

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Professor Count Herman Van Rompuy.

It is a delight to welcome Professor Count Van Rompuy to St Andrews today to receive his honorary degree.

Just last week, our university hosted a conference on Scotland and the Flemish people. Some suggest that up to a third of the current Scottish population may have had Flemish ancestors. Little did you think, Professor Van Rompuy, that by joining the University of St Andrews family today you may in fact be distantly related in more than just an academic way.

Today we are gathered to mark your life´s work – a life dedicated to public service. You led what today we know as the Christian Democratic and Flemish political party (CD&V) from 1988 to 1993 which, when you were leader, boasted 120,000 members. You served as the sixty-sixth Prime Minister of Belgium and you were chosen to serve by European Union heads of government as the first full time President of the European Council, a position you held from December 2009 until November 2014.

During that time you received, with the President of the European Parliament and European Commission, on behalf of the EU, the Nobel Peace Prize.

In addition to your successful political and academic career, your love and talent in writing Haiku poetry has led the Japanese government to specifically honour you as a special Ambassador for this art form.

My personal favourite from your book, Haiku 2, written for the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize reads:

Vrede na oorlog.
Vervuld een wens van oudsher:
Nobels doomt kmt uit

After war came peace.
Fulfilling the oldest wish:
Nobel’s dream comes true

In order to mark this special occasion, we held our very own St Andrews Haiku poetry competition in honour of you, and I can announce today that the winner is Kate Marriott, a third year undergraduate student reading English, with the following Haiku:

Mountain, air-bolstered:
Running through the ferns and wind,
whipped up into cloud.

Today you continue pursuing your philosophical and academic interests across the world, travelling every week. However there are two stories I would like to share with our new graduates which really illustrate the kind of leader you are. The first concerns an early meeting you were having with the Commission President when you were still Belgian Prime Minister. The story goes that you were running slightly late and President Barroso was wondering where you were. He was informed by his Chief of Staff that you were stuck on the Metro and that you would be there very soon. Now, I am unsure whether the then Commission President ever set foot on the Brussels Metro, but I love the fact that as Belgian Prime Minister you chose the most convenient means of transport open to you and I know that you still travel that way today, even after the March terrorist attacks.

Leadership starts by example and your transport choice reflects a leadership style that is both humble but practical – key skills which our graduates today could benefit from.

My second story further evidences your quiet but effective leadership style. When talking to a former work colleague of yours about your qualities as a leader he said something interesting which I wanted to share. In all the time he worked with you, he never once saw you lose your temper, not once. This is something which many of us strive towards but often fail miserably to achieve. Maybe after the ceremony is over you can share with us the secret of your success?

You have managed throughout some of the toughest decision-making connected with the financial crisis to keep calm, listen and steer a course forward, which was achieved through mutual consensus and understanding. To our new graduates I hope in your new roles away from St Andrews you too will try never to lose your temper and, most importantly, to listen to those you work with and to always act humbly.

To conclude, I was told that you like to have the last word and that it was often worth waiting for. Today will be no different.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of a life dedicated to public service and his commitment to European peace, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Professor Herman Van Rompuy.

Catherine Stihler is pictured with Professor Van Rompuy

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