Focus: Europe In Crisis: the ashes of Brussels?

Runners and riders line up as the horse-trading for the top post begins

s Romano Prodi the real favourite to replace Jacques Santer as European Commission president, or just a stalking horse? The question lies at the heart of the scramble for a post which will be decided by elaborate horse-trading among all 15 EU heads of government.

A former Italian premier, a respected politician and a southern European - it's their "turn" for the job - Mr Prodi seems ideally placed. He has been endorsed by his successor as prime minister, Massimo D'Alema, and praised by Tony Blair who is a known fan. The two met last summer when the Blair family were holidaying in Tuscany, then shared a platform at a Washington summit on the "third way".

Mr Prodi is available immediately and, if he gets the job, Italy may be more willing to increase its payments into EU coffers, helping Germany to reduce its pounds 8bn annual net contributions.

But a couple of factors count against the Italian. First he is not a socialist (again it's their "turn" for the job) and 11 of the 15 heads of government belong to that grouping; and second he is the clear front- runner. Historically, the obvious choice is rarely the successful one.

Predicting the outcome of negotiations is risky because, technically speaking, the vote of Luxemburg's leader is as important as that of Germany's. Moreover, other negotiations tend to become intertwined in the horse-trading.

Unlike the last time this contest came around, in 1994, the field includes a number of strong potential candidates, including the Spaniard, Javier Solana, Secretary General of Nato. He has not been proposed by his prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, who comes from a rival party, but Mr Aznar would not block the appointment if others are keen. Mr Solana's allies believe he could extract himself from his current job, despite the Kosovo crisis, after next month's Nato summit in Washington.

Then there are the undeclared contenders. These include Wim Kok, the Dutch premier and a close ally of Mr Blair. Mr Kok proved how close he is to the Labour leader by endorsing him before he became prime minister, putting John Major's nose out of joint. But as prime minister of the Netherlands he would only allow his name to go forward if he was reasonably sure of success, for fear of damaging his domestic political position.

The same is true of Antonio Guterres, the Portuguese premier, whose socialist party at home cannot afford to do without him in elections due this autumn. A delay in the decision-taking, with a caretaker filling in, would suit him. Other possible contenders include the German defence minister, Rudolf Scharping, and even the man vetoed by John Major in 1994 - Belgium's premier Jean-Luc Deheane.

Then there are the caretaker candidates. Sir Leon Brittan, former home secretary and now a vice president of the Commission, clearly wants that role. His main problem is his nationality; with Britain outside the euro it is in a weak position to put up a candidate. Karel Van Miert, the senior Belgian commissioner, is another contender.

The caretaker scenario arises because, if a new president is appointed quickly, they would have to be vetted by the European Parliament twice: first by the current assembly, then by the new parliament which will be elected in June.

Which brings us back to Mr Prodi, who does not want the caretaker role, but might be willing to jump through the hoops twice in nine months. That would mean taking over immediately on a temporary basis, providing he has the political backing to perform the job for the full 2000-2005 term.

On Friday the former Italian premier had some mixed news. He received the sort of endorsement some believe he could do without: that of the outgoing president, the luckless Mr Santer.

OVERLEAF: LUXEMBURG KEEPS THE FAITH

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?