Tories divided over Brittan's EU candidacy: Belgian leader preferred by some MPs

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Indy Politics
JOHN MAJOR will go to the European Summit in Corfu tomorrow threatening use of the veto in the battle for Sir Leon Brittan to replace Jacques Delors as president of the European Commission.

British officials hinted last night that Mr Major may hold out against other candidates at Corfu and press for a special summit under the German presidency to agree a replacement for Mr Delors.

But there were growing signs among some Tory MPs that they would prefer the compromise candidate, Jean- Luc Dehaene, the Prime Minister of Belgium.

'Leon Brittan has gone native. He's more of a federalist than Dehaene. Dehaene is a fixer and has no great Euro- visions like Brittan,' said one ministerial source. Another ministerial source said Mr Dahaene had been the preferred choice at a private Westminster supper club of Tory MPs, which discussed the succession to Mr Delors.

Mr Dehaene has not declared himself as a candidate, but is believed to be ready to stand, if no agreeement can be reached over the two candidates who have declared, Sir Leon and Ruud Lubbers, the Dutch Prime Minister.

It was stressed by British officials that a consensus has to be found among the 12 - seen as a clear threat that Britain may be prepared to use its veto by withholding its agreement at Corfu. Britain wants a president who will focus the Commission on a strategy for economic prosperity through competition and supply-side initiatives, such as flexibility and deregulation, rather than grandiose schemes for a single currency, although Mr Major signed up to closer and deeper union in the Maastricht treaty.

The replacement of the president will be thrashed out by the heads of government at dinner on Friday, while the foreign ministers, at a separate dinner, discuss joint European action on Bosnia. British officials believe that the British economic agenda for competition will be embraced by the council in Friday afternoon's session.

A Commission White Paper on competition would be 'wholeheartedly endorsed' by Britain because it laid stress on the importance of freeing up markets and free trade. 'There is a nexus of issues on growth, competitiveness and employment which is moving in the direction that the UK has been pushing for two years and more,' said one leading British official.