Nato chief tipped for new role as 'Voice of Europe'

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JAVIER SOLANA, the Secretary General of Nato, is expected to be named this week as the European Union's foreign and security chief, a powerful new post intended to forge a common policy in dealing with the rest of the world.

Before the Kosovo conflict erupted, Mr Solana was known to have been expecting to step down after last month's Nato heads of government summit in Washington. He has no starting date, but European leaders are likely to agree his appointment as head of common foreign and security policy at the EU summit in Cologne on Friday. He is now the favourite, following widespread speculation about who "Mr CFSP" would be. Rudolf Scharping, the German Defence Minister, is being named by some as his replacement at Nato.

Mr Solana's expected move, which Government sources said had already been privately agreed by member states and was now "99 per cent likely", is a sign to the Americans that Europe does not want to distance itself from the US. There was some concern in the Clinton administration that the establishment of a new European defence capability, would undermine the transatlantic relationship. But the appointment of Mr Solana, who is close to the Americans, would demonstrate that the Europeans are keen for the new military wing to work closely with Nato.

It would also be a ringing endorsement of Mr Solana, despite the growing controversy over a number of high profile blunders by Nato under his leadership. Another high-profile figure, Louise Arbour, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, may also be departing. She is tipped to be under pressure to take up a Supreme Court judgeship in Canada.

The EU's foreign and defence representative will act as the "voice of Europe" and create an international identity for the EU. The Germans and French are proposing that he should be directly responsible for the new defence capability, proposed by Tony Blair in St Malo last year and due to be formally approved this week. The military wing, which will operate out of Brussels, will be under the political control of EU foreign ministers and will act alongside Nato, although it will be able to go into conflicts independently if necessary. The existing defence forum, the Western European Union, will be scrapped and its staff brought into the EU.

Charles Grant, head of the Centre for European Reform, said the Kosovo conflict had demonstrated the need for Europe to be able to speak as one on foreign and defence issues. "Henry Kissinger famously said he did not know who to call when he wanted to speak to Europe. The CFSP job is very important, and will change the way the rest of the world perceives the EU."