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EU to decide new posts next week

D'Alema seen among frontrunners for foreign chief

11 November, 14:37
EU to decide new posts next week (ANSA) - Rome, November 11 - European Union leaders will pick their first standing president and new foreign policy chief in Brussels next week, the Swedish duty presidency said Wednesday.

Italy's Massimo D'Alema, a centre-left former premier and foreign minister, is a frontrunner for the EU foreign affairs job.

The two new top jobs were created under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's new beefed-up ruling charter, which goes into effect on December 1. The special summit on Thursday, November 19, will take the form of a working dinner, a Swedish spokesman said.

November 19 is the last of three possible dates for the summit which Swedish Premier Fredrik Reinfeldt set last week.

Diplomatic sources said this was an indication of how far from agreement the 27 EU members are right now.

Swedish sources said the final ballot might even be made by a majority vote, although they were going to mediate down to the wire to get the widest possible backing for both posts.

The new foreign post is expected to go to a centre-left figure while the new president of the European Council is expected to be from the centre right, although Britain is still campaigning hard for former prime minister Tony Blair.

Germany and other countries are seen as wanting a less high-profile, compromise candidate. A Blair win would appear to rule out a second centre-left figure such as D'Alema getting the other post, observers say, citing a reported deal by European Parliament conservatives and progressives to share out the positions. Among the other possible hurdles facing D'Alema, apart from his Communist past, is that some members may want the post to be filled by a woman.

Two women are among D'Alema's three remaining rivals now that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has made it clear he does not want the job, diplomatic sources say. They are European Foreign Trade Commissioner, Baron Catherine Ashton, of Britain and former EU employment commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou of Greece.

Romanian ex-foreign minister Adrian Severin is also still in the running, sources say. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday D'Alema had the full backing of Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government and had an "excellent chance" of winning.

If D'Alema is picked, he would also become vice president of the European Commission. Belgian Premier Herman Van Rompuy has emerged as frontrunner for the other post, the first standing president of the European Council, who will chair EU summits and also represent the EU on the world stage.

Other possibilities are Dutch Premier Jan Peter Balkenende, former Austrian premier Wolfgang Schuessel and his Luxembourg counterpart Jean-Claude Juncker.

photo: D'Alema

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