Patten is Blair's favourite in race for `Mr Europe'

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The Independent Online
CHRIS PATTEN, the former governor of Hong Kong and one-time chairman of the Conservative Party, has emerged as a contender for the post of Europe's new and influential foreign policy supremo.

Allies of Mr Patten, 55, one of the leading figures on the Tory left, believe he is well- suited to the post, and one senior European diplomat yesterday described his prospects as "strong". He has also been tipped as a possible member of the European Commission, but becoming Europe's first "high representative" is seen as an alternative. Friends said he would be keen on either job, as he is reluctant to return to Westminster politics.

Potentially the "Mr Europe" post is much more powerful than that of a commissioner, since the holder would aim to ensure a swift, co-ordinated EU response to crises in troublespots such as Bosnia and Kosovo. The creation of the post is designed to answer Henry Kissinger's famous question: "Who do you call when you want to call Europe?"

Britain can expect to have a big say in the appointment because of its prominent role in security matters, and Tony Blair's enthusiasm for a European defence identity. There are few declared candidates, although Carlos Westerndorp, a former Spanish foreign minister and EU representative in Bosnia, has entered the race.

Also interested is the former Irish foreign minister, Dick Spring. Although experienced and admired on the international stage, Mr Spring suffers the disadvantage of coming from a neutral country.

Mr Blair is keen to appoint pro-EU Tories to key jobs as part of his drive to end "tribal" politics - and to highlight the Tory split over Europe.

Currently leading a commission into reforms of the Royal Ulster Constabulary at Mr Blair's request, Mr Patten has foreign policy experience, having served as minister for overseas development, and as governor of Hong Kong. Histough line against the Chinese divides opinion. Some EU leaders argue that his aggressiveness then bodes ill for the consensus-building required of the job; others believe that only a tough operator can forge a convincing EU foreign policy.

However, Mr Patten's prospects depend on a complicated patchwork of horse-trading, with a range of top jobs due to be decided in the summer including the president of theCommission and secretary-general of Nato.

The creation of the "Mr Europe" job stems from the failure of Europe to assert itself in the former Yugoslavia, and the reliance on a sometimes reluctant American leadership.