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22nd Jan 2022

EU leaders to discuss top jobs at Berlin dinner

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel (l), is seen as the key decision-maker on the EU posts (Photo: European Community, 2006)

Visiting leaders from across the European Union are expected to use the festivities surrounding the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall for informal talks over the appointment of the European Council president and EU foreign policy chief.

The leaders will try to agree on the two posts at a dinner in the German capital on Monday (9 November) evening, with Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeld having taken soundings in recent days from his EU peers.

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The Swedish presidency aims to convene a snap summit once a provisional deal is in place, with the summit to take place as early as this Thursday or next Thursday, according to press reports.

The current top candidate for the president job is the Belgian prime minister Hermann van Rompuy. But the deal is far from being sewn up, diplomats say.

UK and Dutch press report that both the ex-British prime minister, Tony Blair, and the current Dutch leader, Jan Peter Balkanende, are still actively lobbying.

The NRC Handelsblad, a Dutch daily, said that Mr Balkanende's staff "are promoting his person to the post," quoting the Polish ambassador to the EU, Jan Tombinski.

The Times of London said that Mr Blair has made a series of phone calls to European leaders in a last-minute attempt to revive his bid. Mr Blair recently telephoned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his potential rival Jan Peter Balkenende, the paper wrote.

Mr Blair's Iraq war past and the UK's abstention from the Schengen borderless zone and the euro have undermined his chances. Meanwhile, smaller member states have voiced preference for the new EU president to be more of a committee chair than Europe's answer to Barack Obama.

The lowering of ambition has boosted the chances of Mr van Rompuy, who is little known outside Belgium. EU colleagues are said to be impressed by his ability to steer the fractious Belgian federation despite years of political turmoil.

EU foreign minister

If Mr van Rompuy or Mr Balkenende win the day, the spotlight will shift to UK foreign minister David Miliband, the most talked-about name for the EU foreign policy job.

Italy's ex-prime minister Massimo D'Alema has popped up as another candidate for the post, amid Mr Miliband's repeated statements that he does not want the appointment and speculation that he may be keen to take over as head of the British Labour party instead.

Mr D'Alema would face resistance from some former Communist EU states, who frown on his past membership in the Communist party. The politician himself believes his chances to be "significantly less than 50 percent," the Italian paper, Corriere della Sera, reported.

Austria's ex-chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer could also be in the running for EU foreign minister. But Austria's formal neutrality may be a disadvantage in an EU bloc which sees 21 of its member states participate in Nato.

Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, may be a contender, with analysts noting that Sweden has not yet designated its next EU commissioner (the same country cannot have both a commissioner and the EU foreign relations post).

Meanwhile, the Irish Times, citing "informed sources," has said that the former globetrotting EU trade commissioner and current UK business secretary, Peter Mandelson, could yet make a bid for the job.

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