Centre-right parties nominate Patten as next EC president

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The Independent Online

European Union leaders were deadlocked last night over the choice of a new president, despite discussing a series of candidates, including Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt and Chris Patten, Britain's European Commissioner.

European Union leaders were deadlocked last night over the choice of a new president, despite discussing a series of candidates, including Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt and Chris Patten, Britain's European Commissioner.

After several hours of discussion, Bertie Ahern, prime minister of Ireland, which holds the EU's presidency adjourned the talks until later today, though he claimed progress had been made.

Mr Ahern, who said he had a list of "eight or nine names" said there was insufficient backing for any one of them but added: "At this stage, I don't see any new candidates emerging and the issue would be between the candidates already known."

Earlier, British sources had said Mr Patten, currently the EU's external relations commissioner, would be "a good choice" to succeed Romano Prodi in October, after his surprise nomination by the centre-right.. But France immediately cast doubt on Mr Patten's candidacy to stop him gathering support at the EU summit in Brussels.

The 25 EU leaders discussed the thorny issue of finding a replacement for Mr Prodi over dinner last night.

Mr Patten, 59, was widely expected to stand down from the Commission this autumn after a five-year term. His family does not want him to stay in Brussels, although he has hinted that he could be persuaded to take the top Brussels post.

Tony Blair would welcome the appointment of Mr Patten, who would be a powerful ally when he tries to win a referendum on the EU constitution. As a prominent Tory, his involvement in the "yes" campaign would ensure a public split in the Conservative Party, which will call for a "no" vote.

But the elevation of Mr Patten would block the ambition of the former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, a close Blair ally, to become a commissioner this autumn, as Britain will have only one representative on the Commission.

Conservative and Christian Democrat leaders threw the race to succeed Mr Prodi wide open by proposing Mr Patten. After last week's elections, their parties are the largest group
in the European Parliament, which has to approve the new Commission president.

France and Germany were strongly backing Mr Verhofstadt last night.

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