Could it be Miliband – and not Blair – for Europe?

World Focus: The EU

The dark clouds that have gathered around Tony Blair's hopes of becoming EU President could yet reveal a silver lining for a younger British hopeful. Murmurs that David Miliband could be in the running for the number two post of EU high representative have grown louder in the past few days, amid tentative hopes nominations could be announced during next week's nail-biting summit in Brussels next week.

The post of de facto EU foreign minister might not at first glance convey the grandeur of the presidential function, but it could become far more prominent if EU leaders opt for a low-key figure for the President's role. Several European capitals have made it known recently that far from wanting a high-charisma – and controversial – candidate like Tony Blair to become the EU's public face in the world, they would prefer a more demure personality to act as go-between and compromise-broker among the EU's 27, often-bickering, member states.

More palatable (though lamentably uninspiring) rivals to Blair include Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch Prime Minister, or Finland's Paavo Lipponen. Both belong to resolutely pro-European member states and are not tarnished by the Iraq war. "If they want the President to be a mild-mannered eurocrat rather than a bold statesman, that would leave more room to appoint a more high-profile figure as foreign minister," says one EU diplomat.

Yesterday Mr Miliband of course denied he was interested in swapping London for Brussels. "I'm not running for the Europe high rep job," he tweeted, "I'm the Foreign Sec thank you very much – fully booked".

These protestations aside, his nomination would have plenty going for it. At 44, he is one of the younger and more dynamic foreign ministers on the EU block and his popularity is reflected in the chorus of positive sound-bites from European diplomats, who have this week waxed lyrical about his "intelligence", "values" and "analytical skills" to the British contingent of the Brussels press corps.

Miliband has also ruffled fewer feathers than other wannabes, such as Sweden's Carl Bildt, whose strong record abroad is undermined by his regular tirades against Russia. "He did get off to a rocky start in Brussels, where some perceived him to be too young and cocky and a tad disrespectful. But he's earned a lot of respect since then," says Daniel Korski, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "He's also one of the most pro-European ministers around."

A pet project of Mr Miliband's has been the creation of a far more robust and centralised foreign policy outfit for the EU. The European External Action Service – part of the Treaty of Lisbon and due to come into force next year – would effectively do away with the current messy patchwork of EU departments to create one foreign office with 5,000 diplomatic staff, some of whom would be despatched to newly-created EU embassies around the globe.

Mr Miliband's professed lack of interest might not be the only stumbling block. The EU's enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, who oversaw the entry of 12 new member states, enjoys universal approval and is widely seen as the front-runner for the post. It has also been reported that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, would prefer to see a woman in the job. "Right now, it's a carousel of rumours and speculation. There is still everything to play for," said one British official in Brussels.

Mr Miliband's appointment is of course conditional on Tony Blair's failure. In fact, some British cabinet ministers yesterday dismissed the whole Miliband furore as an attempt by Blair opponents to kill off his candidacy.

The carousel of speculation could continue for a while yet. The EU is still waiting for the Czechs to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Yesterday there seemed to be a more conciliatory mood from Prague, with President Vaclav Klaus hinting that his concerns had been dealt with. But the Czech head of state is hard to predict and could still grand-stand long enough during next week's summit for the nominations to have to be delayed until November.

On Monday, Mr Miliband is set to give a speech setting out his vision for the EU's meatier role on the world stage. He may now struggle to make clear that his interest in the new "EU Foreign Office" is not tied to any interest in becoming its boss.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project