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Belgian tipped for EU post; Miliband may decline

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 15:49

Brussels: Belgian leader Herman Van Rompuy and Britain`s David Miliband have emerged as the front-runners for two top jobs in the European Union, but the British minister has distanced himself from the post of foreign policy chief.
European diplomats say there is strong backing among the 27 EU member states for Van Rompuy to become the bloc`s president and for Miliband to be high representative for foreign affairs.

The British Foreign Minister has said repeatedly he is not available, and a spokesman for the Socialist group in the European Parliament said he believed he would not seek the post.

"It seems the British Foreign Secretary said he does not intend to quit active political life in Great Britain," said spokesman Dimitris Komodromos.

He said party leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen had discussed the job with Miliband at the weekend. The 44-year-old minister, a potential leader of the British Labour Party, had ruled out any interest and former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D`Alema would now be backed as the Socialist candidate, he said.

The post of president of the Council of EU leaders is being created under the EU`s Lisbon treaty, designed to make decision-making smoother at the top of a political and trading bloc representing nearly 500 million people.

The high representative for foreign affairs will have enhanced powers under the treaty, to help the bloc raise its global profile and match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the economic crisis.

Although Miliband might yet be the next foreign policy chief, Britain`s Europe minister said London was still backing former Prime Minister Tony Blair for the EU president role. Britain cannot be seen to back two candidates at once.

"David has made clear he is not a candidate. We have a plan A, and a plan A only, which is to bat for Tony Blair," Chris Bryant said.

Low-key president

Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency, is expected to call a summit this month to confirm the new jobs, but wants to ensure there is a consensus before it sets a date.

Van Rompuy, 62, is a low-profile centre-right leader who has been Belgium`s Prime Minister for less than a year but has managed to hold together an uneasy coalition government.

His emergence indicates that a majority of EU leaders want someone who is good at building consensus rather than an established statesman who can open doors in world capitals.

Blair had been the front-runner but his chances have faded.

EU leaders have been trying to find a political balance between the president and foreign policy chief, who will head an external action service to represent the EU in external affairs.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will start forming the new Commission, the EU executive, only when the top two jobs have been decided, because the new foreign policy chief will also be one member of the Commission.

Labour, which opinion polls suggest will be defeated in a British Parliamentary Election next year, could yet decide to seek one of the coveted and influential economic portfolios in the Commission rather than the foreign policy post.

Barroso has made clear he wants women to have senior positions in the new EU line-up, so it is still possible some EU leaders will press for a woman to get one of the top jobs.

Bureau Report

First Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 15:49
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