Bonn applies balm to EU wounds: The German Foreign Minister is in a conciliatory mood on eve of visit to London, write Andrew Marshall and Steve Crawshaw in Bonn

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The Independent Online
GERMANY yesterday tried to heal the wounds caused by last weekend's bruising Corfu summit, amid signs of a growing rift between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Foreign Ministry over the affair.

'We will try to calm the waters that are a little bit turbulent in a number of countries after the Corfu summit,' said Klaus Kinkel, Germany's Foreign Minister, on the eve of a visit to London to discuss how to proceed with choosing a new president for the European Commission. Germany hopes a candidate can be found at or before an emergency summit in Brussels on 15 July.

Mr Kinkel acknowledged that the meeting had caused ill-feeling, but denied that Germany and France had tried to impose Jean-Luc Dehaene as president. 'We didn't force anybody on anybody,' he said. And he insisted that Britain had a right to veto Mr Dehaene. 'The British Prime Minister has every right to say that,' he said. 'There'll be no pressure from us.' He added that the veto had been clearly understood. 'We'll have to accept that, we had to accept that,' he said. In effect, this closes the book on the Belgian Prime Minister's candidacy, but Mr Kinkel was careful to distance himself, saying: 'Whether Mr Dehaene is a candidate is up to him . . . he himself will have to decide.' As recently as Tuesday Mr Kinkel had reaffirmed that Mr Dehaene was still the only possible consensus candidate.

The Foreign Minister's comments come amidst growing evidence that his ministry is highly critical of the way Chancellor Kohl's officials handled the succession and forced the stalemate at the Corfu summit. Foreign Ministry officials hint that scapegoats should be sought elsewhere in Bonn. Many at the Foreign Ministry argue that the debacle over the Dehaene candidacy could have been averted.

One diplomat suggested yesterday: 'They (the Chancellor's office) should let professionals do the job instead.'

Mr Kinkel tried to dismiss the idea that Germany's decision to proceed with a ban on some categories of British beef was a response to Britain's veto. 'We have our own internal problems, and these have nothing to do with Mr Dehaene,' said Mr Kinkel. But Friedrich Bohl, a minister in the Chancellor's office, said he gave the measure the go-ahead on Monday, immediately after the summit.

Germany takes over the presidency of the European Union at a moment when several countries are upset by its handling of the question of the president. Mr Kinkel was concerned to placate not just Britain but also the Netherlands, which was deeply offended by Germany's decision to drop its support for Ruud Lubbers, the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister. 'The decision against Mr Lubbers should not be played up. That would be the worst thing that could happen,' he said. He emphasised the importance to Germany of ties with both Britain and the Netherlands.

The chances of a media favourite for the job, Peter Sutherland of Ireland, appeared to strengthen yesterday. The Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, said he would consider proposing several compromise candidates, including the well-regarded Mr Sutherland, the head of Gatt.

Mr Reynolds has previously been hostile to a Sutherland candidacy, largely because his coalition government could be unsettled if he were forced to bring home the Irish EU commissioner, Padraig Flynn.

Mr Reynolds told Irish MPs on Tuesday that, if he thought it would help the EU out of a jam, he would propose Mr Sutherland or the former Irish EU commissioner, Ray MacSharry, or Mr Flynn. Neither Mr MacSharry nor Mr Flynn could be regarded as serious candidates. EU officials said Mr Reynolds' motive in mentioning them could be to muddy the waters for Mr Sutherland, a member of the opposition Fine Gael party.

(Photograph omitted)