EU states struggle to agree on who gets top jobs

BRUSSELS Tue Nov 10, 2009 3:47pm GMT

Combination photo shows undated portraits of politicians often named by European media as potential candidates to become European Union President. REUTERS/Reuters Photographers

Combination photo shows undated portraits of politicians often named by European media as potential candidates to become European Union President.

Credit: Reuters/Reuters Photographers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Divisions in the European Union make it increasingly unlikely members will agree unanimously on the appointment of a president and foreign policy chief under the bloc's new structure.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU presidency, has been consulting leaders in the 27-member bloc for days and should complete the process on Tuesday. However, unanimity has proved elusive.

Failure to reach a decision could mean the new jobs, created under the Lisbon reform treaty, are filled by a majority vote, which could emphasise differences rather than the unity the treaty seeks to build.

"What seems quite clear is that there will be difficulties finding a consensus candidate, so we will probably be looking at a majority candidate," an EU diplomat said. "A lot of people are saying different names."

Diplomats said haggling may have to continue into a summit meant to decide the posts, a date for which has yet to be set.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed doubt that EU leaders could agree this week and said they would probably have to meet next week instead. Some EU officials said November 19 was a possible date.

Diplomats have said there is strong backing for Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to become Council president, but Kouchner said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker remained in the running.

Kouchner said France had no favourites, but reiterated that France and Germany would support the same candidates.

"There is Tony Blair's name, of course, and that was the first (to be mentioned). There is the name of the Belgian prime minister, and then there are other names. There is Jean-Claude Juncker," he said.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Tuesday Blair was the only British candidate for a senior EU job and Foreign Secretary David Miliband was not in line to become high representative for foreign affairs, despite widespread support for his candidacy.

MILIBAND DISTANCES HIMSELF

After emerging as a front-runner for the foreign affairs role, Miliband, 44, has distanced himself from the post and supporters say he wants to focus on his career in Britain.

His name often features on lists of possible future leaders of the centre-left Labour Party and he was briefly linked to a challenge to Brown's leadership last year. Labour Party sources say Miliband, who has a young family, may be reluctant to consider a job that would involve large amounts of travel.

The two posts are designed to make decision-making smoother at the top of the EU, a political and trade bloc of nearly 500 million people. Failure to find candidates would illustrate how troublesome EU decision-making can be.

The foreign affairs post will have greater powers under the treaty to help the bloc raise its profile. The treaty is due to come into force on December 1.

Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, may have lost support because of to his backing for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the failure of his government to adopt the euro currency.

Poland has circulated a paper proposing that candidates should be required to present their visions of how they would carry out their roles, before a majority vote.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Heritage, Marcin Grajewski and Darren Ennis in Brussels, Crispian Balmer in Paris and Peter Griffiths in London; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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