Emma Bonino, one of Italy's two acting European commissioners, and the French health minister Bernard Kouchner were both proposed, denting the hopes of the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats.
The EU is expecting to foot most of the bill for Balkan reconstruction and believes the United Nations "governor" of Kosovo should be one of its nationals. The holder of the post will have big responsibilities for the overall administration of the province and will co-ordinate the activities of all the agencies involved in humanitarian work and rebuilding, including the UN, the EU, the World Bank and the Organisation for Security and Co- operation in Europe.
After the foreign ministers called for the job to be awarded to a European, they agreed to submit a shortlist of three names to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general.
With a military background and a record of involvement in Balkan issues, Mr Ashdown is a strong contender. However, since General Sir Mike Jackson, commander of the peace-implementation force K-For, is British, some will oppose the installation of a second prominent Briton in a key Kosovo post.
Ms Bonino has had a high profile as the European commissioner for humanitarian aid, but her detractors believe she is not suited to an post which carries such huge administrative responsibilities. Nevertheless, the Italian government is pushing her case hard and her populist style has won supporters. Some believe it would be convenient for the Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, to remove her from the domestic stage after her success in the European elections made her a more substantial rival.
Mr Kouchner has a strong track record on Balkan issues and has championed the cause of Medecins sans Frontieres, the French aid agency.
Guenter Verheugen, the Europe minister of Germany, which is chairing the EU, refused to discuss names yesterday. He said: "We will be proposing to the UN secretary-general, as soon as possible, that the council expects that [he] will appoint a European citizen."Reuse content