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'Strong' support for D'Alema

Ex-Italian foreign minister tipped for EU job

09 November, 17:18
'Strong' support for D'Alema (ANSA) - Brussels, November 9 - The European Parliament's Social Democratic caucus leader Martin Schulz "strongly supports" the candidacy of Italian ex-foreign minister and ex-prime minister Massimo D'Alema to be the European Union's new diplomatic chief, caucus sources told ANSA Monday.

The sources said the caucus had swung behind D'Alema after British Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared to have ruled himself out.

However, several news outlets including Reuters and British newspapers were still saying Miliband was among the favourites.

D'Alema, for his part, said his candidacy was "a very delicate affair on which I cannot and must not say anything".

Diplomatic sources said Monday's meeting of European leaders in Berlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall could bring a "breakthrough" in the appointment debate.

Also up for grabs is the post of the EU's first standing president.

Belgium's conservative PM Herman Van Rompuy is seen as hot favourite for this job.

But according to The Times newspaper, ex-British PM Tony Blair is still trying to canvass support for his bid.

If Blair succeeds, the other post would have to go to a conservative leader since its caucus is the biggest in the EP. Both posts, with new powers attached, have been set up in the Lisbon Treaty which comes into effect on January 1.

The Swedish presidency of the EU said Monday it had yet to set a date for an extraordinary summit to make the appointments.

Diplomatic sources said the meeting would "probably" be on November 14, 15 or 18.

Earlier, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said D'Alema had an excellent chance of becoming the EU's first 'foreign minister'.

There were ''excellent prospects'' for D'Alema if Miliband confirmed he was not running for the job.

Miliband, he noted, had yet to openly throw his hat into the ring.

''Frankly, that candidacy has so far never been there,'' Frattini said.

If Miliband has definitely ruled himself out, as Schulz now appears to believe, D'Alema is the prime candidate to become new High Representative, Frattini observed.

Frattini, too, said the picture should become clearer after the talks in Berlin late Monday.

''The heads of government will certainly have another chance to think about it (today). We'll see,'' Frattini said.

Italy's conservative PM, Silvio Berlusconi, has shown firm support for D'Alema over the last week.

D'Alema, 60, was premier when Italy took part in the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 and was foreign minister seven years later, playing a role in helping end the 2006 Lebanon conflict.

When he took office in 1998 he was Italy's first ex-Communist premier.

After excelling in school, D'Alema gained a place at the prestigious Scuola Normale di Pisa but did not complete his philosophy studies because of his duties as youth chief of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

He was one of the PCI's top figures when it went into upheaval after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

With D'Alema playing a key role, the PCI became first the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) in 1991 and then the Democrats of the Left (DS) in 1998.

He was foreign minister to Romano Prodi when the more moderate heirs of the old PCI merged with centrist parties in 2007 into today's Democratic Party.

D'Alema served as chairman of the PDS-DS from 1994 to 1999.

He was premier from October 1998 to April 2000 and foreign minister from May 2006 to May 2008.

A professional journalist, D'Alema is married to a Siena university lecturer. The couple have two children.

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