The initiative may mean a new team in Brussels of Sir David Hannay, a long-serving Foreign Office mandarin, and Dick Spring, the former Irish foreign minister and former rugby international.
Although Mr Spring has not yet been nominated for the new European Union post of high representative for foreign affairs, his name has been canvassed by the Austrian Prime Minister, Viktor Klima. The Irish government is likely to back him if it thinks he has a chance of success.
Sir David is also a candidate but British diplomats accept that he is unlikely to get the job, which seems destined for a politician. So they have nominated him for a second position, deputy secretary-general of the European Council.
Neither is renowned for suffering fools, and their supporters believe they would make an effective duo. Mr Spring is well known for his presentational skills, tough diplomacy and his close links with the White House. Sir David is also no stranger to aggressive tactics, having masterminded the diplomatic alliance against the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, at the United Nations Security Council.
With Austria, which holds the EU presidency, still anxious to resolve the issue before the end of the year, it is expected to be discussed at a meeting on 6 December. The post is sensitive because its occupant has the potential to become the public, televised face of the EU, rivalling the European Commission president.
The main opposition is likely to come from France. Paris is unlikely to back Mr Spring because he comes from a neutral country, rather than a military power. The combination of two Anglophones in top jobs is likely to stick in French gullets.
Mr Spring's allies argue that he has close links with the White House, famously partnering President Bill Clinton on the golf course, and will be backed by Europe's small countries.
The new high representative is supposed to answer Henry Kissinger's famous question: "Who do you call when you want to call Europe?" The spur for the creation of the post came from the failure of Europe to assert itself in the succession of conflicts in former Yugoslavia. European foreign ministers are sensitive about accusations of impotence and over-reliance on American leadership to sort out wars on Europe's doorstep.
Despite that, Germany has hinted that the decision on the post may have to be put off until next summer. That would mean the post being allocated as a result of complex horsetrading for other top jobs, including that of the next commission president. One European diplomat argued yesterday: "It will be one of those jobs for the boys."
The other declared candidate for the job is Carlos Westerndorp, a former Spanish minister who is now the EU high representative in Bosnia.
Although the formal deadline for nominations has passed, nations have been reluctant to put forward official candidates, perhaps because the new position will not come into existence until the Amsterdam treaty is ratified in all European countries, probably next spring.Reuse content