EU deadlocked over top jobs before summit
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Divisions among member states are threatening the European Union's chances of agreeing on a president and foreign affairs chief at a summit this week, EU officials said on Monday.
Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy is the frontrunner to become president, but diplomats say no agreement has been reached on the foreign policy job and some countries want a more established statesman than Van Rompuy as the figurehead leader.
Failure to agree on names at Thursday's summit in Brussels would be a deep blow to the 27-country bloc's efforts to strengthen its position on the world stage and could undermine its efforts to project itself as a global economic power.
"It is crucial that there are talks until Thursday and that there is a decision on Thursday -- or it will be postponed," Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
"If there is no agreement -- and currently many things seem to be blocked -- then it must continue on Friday or probably it will have to be postponed."
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said he thought it unlikely that EU heads of state and government would fail to agree on the two names on or before Thursday.
But, like other EU officials, he made clear it was proving difficult to reach a consensus on the candidates and it might come down to a vote, although the bloc hoped to avoid this.
"My hope is that we don't have to go for an actual vote, that a compromise will have been found at the end," he said. "The worst-case scenario would be that we would not be able to nominate anyone on Thursday night."
FINDING A BALANCE
The role of president of the Council of EU leaders is being created under the Lisbon treaty which comes into force on December 1 and will reform the bloc's institutions to ease decision-making. It increases the powers of the high representative for foreign affairs and creates an EU diplomatic service.
Sweden is leading consultations on the jobs but has little time to secure a deal that satisfies all the member states and reflects the wishes of the European Parliament.
The EU is expected to opt for a centre-right president and a centre-left foreign affairs chief but there is no firm favourite for the latter role, although Italians Massimo D'Alema and Giuliano Amato are increasingly mentioned as candidates.
Despite calls for a woman to have one of the top jobs, no women are thought to be among the frontrunners.
EU diplomats say Britain is still pushing for former Prime Minister Tony Blair to be president but many other states want a relatively low-profile leader who they believe would be better able to secure a consensus at meetings.
"Blair is by far the biggest problem," an EU diplomat said.
The envoy said Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not budge on the issue of his predecessor becoming EU president.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he saw no reason why agreement would not be reached this week and added: "Now is the time for a decision. We are at a defining period for Europe's global role in a number of ways."
He said implementing the Lisbon treaty was vital to the EU's role on the world stage, where its leaders say it faces irrelevance if does not reform to match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the global economic crisis.
"But we have quite a number of difficult decisions when it comes to turning Lisbon into reality and the sum of those decisions will be defining for the role Europe can play on the global stage in the years ahead," Bildt said.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Luke Baker, Ilona Wissenbach and Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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