Blair backs Patten for EU job

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The Independent Online
CHRIS PATTEN, the former Tory party chairman and governor of Hong Kong, is being backed by ministers as the new British Commissioner in Brussels, writes Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent.

Eager for a "heavy-hitter" to replace Leon Brittan in the new Commission, they privately say they want Mr Patten instead of Sir Alastair Goodlad, the former Tory chief whip, who has been nominated by William Hague.

The shape of the new Commission, to be appointed in September, will be discussed by heads of government, including Tony Blair, at an extraordinary EU summit this week.

The disgraced Commission President, Jacques Santer, will attend the meeting with the President-designate, Romano Prodi. Under new EU rules, Mr Prodi, the former Italian prime minister, will have the right to veto commissioners he believes are not up to the job.

He wants a strong team to take over in September following the mass resignation of the Commission last month after a devastating report on EU fraud and nepotism.

Doubts about whether Sir Alastair, the official Conservative Party nominee, has the international experience have privately surfaced within government. However, Mr Blair is understood to be reluctant to overrule Mr Hague's nomination.

Last week Mr Patten broke his silence to declare an interest in taking a senior EU job. Mr Blair is expected to voice support for the re-nomination of Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader who resigned, along with the entire Commission last month.

Mr Kinnock, who is responsible for transport, emerged unblemished in the report on fraud and nepotism.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, who will step down in August, has also been mentioned as a contender for the foreign affairs post. However, there are doubts whether other European countries will back two Britons in senior EU posts.

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