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

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
News
A speech made by the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister urging women not to laugh in public in order to preserve morality has sparked a backlash on social media from women posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at his remarks.
GALLERYWhy are Turkish women having a chuckle at the government's expense?
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    SAP PROJECT MANAGER

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MAN...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

    Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

    SEN KS1 Teacher

    £21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Qualified and experi...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star