Van Rompuy won out over the likes of Tony Blair because he is a conservative and a patient negotiator. Germany, France and especially Blair’s own United Kingdom don’t care for a Brussels that dictates (foreign) policy to them. An assertive president is the last thing they want.
Van Rompuy is also known to oppose Turkey’s entry into the union, a position France and Germany share.
The permanent chairman of the European Council (which is what the “presidency” entails) must be able to satisfy smaller member states as well. Someone higher-profile than Van Rompuy, like Blair, would not have. If only because so many Europeans associate him with the Iraq War they opposed.
Anita Kirpalani has a better take in Newsweek, describing Van Rompuy as a “cautious choice” but also a man who can “foster consensus”.
What looks like timidity might just lead to a stronger Europe after all.