FACTBOX - Possible contenders for new EU president

Mon Nov 9, 2009 4:07pm GMT

(Reuters) - European Union leaders are expected to decide soon who will become the bloc's president under its Lisbon reform treaty.

The president of the Council of EU leaders will be picked for a renewable 2-1/2 year term, strengthening the current system of a six-month presidency that each state holds in turn.

Below is a list of possible contenders mentioned in the media or discussed by diplomats and analysts in Brussels.

BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER HERMAN VAN ROMPUY

Van Rompuy, 62, has emerged as a strong centre-right candidate. Although he has been prime minister for less than a year after coming to power following a banking crisis, he has proved a steady hand running a difficult coalition.

He is a low-profile leader whose consensus-building skills could suit German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy better than an established world statesman such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Van Rompuy's stance as a man of compromise makes him a popular choice. Moreover he is respected for his low profile, careful and humble work ethic," Belgian newspaper De Morgen wrote.

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER JAN PETER BALKENENDE

Balkenende, 53, has also emerged as a potential compromise candidate. He has spent the past few years boosting the role of the Netherlands, a founding EU member, on the world stage, recently negotiating invitations to G8 and G20 summits.

However, he was in power when Dutch voters rejected the draft EU constitution in 2005 and this could work against him, as could his support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

LUXEMBOURG PRIME MINISTER JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER

Juncker, a 54-year-old centre-right leader, was an architect of the EU's 1993 Maastricht Treaty which led to the creation of the euro currency, and has acted as a mediator between bigger countries on EU issues. He is now chairman of the group of finance ministers whose countries use the euro.

He says he would listen favourably to calls to serve as president, but France would be likely to oppose him. He said in a newspaper interview he did not believe he would not have much chance of getting the job.

FORMER PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR

Blair's chances receded after he failed to win the backing of European socialists two weeks ago and Sarkozy indicated that he would back another candidate, without saying whom. Despite that, Blair remains a name on many people's lips.

The 55-year-old had been the front-runner but many countries want a less high-profile candidate who is better able to bring consensus. His candidacy has been hampered by his strong advocacy for the war in Iraq. He also faces opposition because Britain is not one of the 16 countries that use the euro and is not in the Schengen area of visa-free travel.

FORMER FINNISH PRIME MINISTER PAAVO TAPIO LIPPONEN

Lipponen could offer a compromise between bigger and smaller member states. A former journalist, he introduced the concept of a European constitution in a speech in 2000, and was prime minister from 1995 to 2003. He was also chairman of the Finnish Social Democratic Party.

Lipponen, 68, underlined his vision for the job in an article in the Financial Times last month, saying the new president's main role would be internal, building consensus.

FORMER AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR WOLFGANG SCHUESSEL

Schuessel, 64, has been mentioned as a possible centre-right contender. A Christian Democrat, he was chancellor from early 2000 until 2007 and he has good ties with Merkel.

France is still critical of Schuessel for his decision to form a coalition government with far-right anti-immigration populist Joerg Haider in 2000 which prompted other EU states to suspend cooperation with the government.

FORMER LATVIAN PRESIDENT VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA

Called "the Iron Lady of the east" by some politicians, Vike-Freiberga, 71, steered her former Soviet republic into NATO and the EU as president for two terms between 1999 and 2007.

She returned to Latvia from Canada after an international academic career as a psychology professor. She has no party affiliation, considers herself a centrist and backed the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis says Latvia's economic woes should not count against her.

(Writing by Luke Baker and Timothy Heritage; editing by Andrew Dobbie)