The candidacy of the former Danish prime minister, made official by Copenhagen only on Saturday, is seen by some European diplomats as a counter-attack by proxy from Britain.
They point out that John Major must in all honesty consider Mr Santer every bit as federalist as Jean-Luc Dehaene, the candidate Mr Major blocked at the Corfu summit only two weeks ago. 'Santer too is a federalist,' said one European envoy.
'So Major could hardly claim victory in having defeated Dehaene if he then goes on to accept the Luxembourger compromise.' Mr Major said at his press conference in Naples yesterday, when asked if he would use Britain's veto again: 'If necessary I wouldn't hesitate to use it again, if it was in our interest or in the interest of the European Union.'
Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, has privately mooted the Santer card as the Franco-German choice for president of the European Commission while shuttling between European capitals recently. But the name leaked out. A Dutch newspaper published it last week (the Netherlands being irritated at its own candidate, Ruud Lubbers, being blocked by Chancellor Helmut Kohl). As one official said: 'When a name comes out it is usually in order to kill it.' Soon afterwards, the Danish made their move.
'It looks like a two-stage rocket,' said one diplomat. 'First the British decided they were cool on Santer; then they got the Danes to officially back Schluter. I don't think the Danes would have gone it alone.'
Mr Santer fulfils several criteria set by the Franco-German axis, who want the post filled by Friday's deadline so the issue does not plague their closely co- ordinated consecutive EU presidencies over the next year. He is a Christian Democrat (after 10 years of Socialists, Mr Kohl seeks one of his own kind in the job); being a Luxembourger, he is Francophone and speaks German (a key to this crisis, given the prejudices in Paris and London, is to find someone who is Francophone and non-Francophone).
A further positive aspect from the British point of view is that, despite his federalist tendencies, Mr Santer represents a country which is a fiscal paradise and a financial capital. 'The British love that,' said one European official.
Mr Schluter, on the other hand, is probably wholly unacceptable to the French, as he represents a country with as many opt-out clauses from the EU treaty as Britain.
Mr Major yesterday listed his ideal candidate as 'someone in favour of free trade rather than protectionism, in favour of enlargement, development of the concept of subsidiarity, not an ideologue'.
One European official said: 'I think it may be too late for Santer now. If Major accepts him, he is laying himself open to all sorts of accusations at home. We might have to go back to old names on the list to find another compromise candidate.'
One renewed suggestion is Anibal Cavaco Silva, Prime Minister of Portugal. 'He speaks French, Portugal is a fast-growing economy and it has strong historical ties with Britain,' said one European envoy. Some may pin their hopes on Felipe Gonzalez of Spain, but this seems unrealistic. 'No leader could leave his country in the state that Spain is in. If he leaves now the crisis there is wide open,' said one EU official.
In spite of Mr Major's assertion that he would apply the veto again, all the parties want to avert an open row. A top French official said: 'It will happen on deadline and without bloodshed.' What is certain is that only Chancellor Kohl will know for sure until the last minute.
'France has worried too much about this already,' the French official said. 'We will now leave this matter to the Germans. We know they would not betray us.'