EU close to deal on Delors successor

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Government is increasingly optimistic of a deal on the European Commission presidency, after privately indicating its broad assent to a slate of seven possible candidates from four countries to succeed Jacques Delors in the job. Ministers have already made it clear during intensive, informal contacts between the 12 EU capitals that John Major would agree to any of the seven, made up of two Italians, two Danes, two Dutchmen and a Spaniard.

British officials have zealously avoided discussing names in advance of the emergency EU summit on 15 July for fear of damaging the chances of any of the candidates, after the Prime Minister vetoed the choice of Jean Luc Deheane, the Belgian Prime Minister, for the job.

The putative - not necessarily exhaustive - list comprises Giuliano Amato, the former Italian prime minister, Renato Ruggiero, also a candidate to be head of the World Trade Organisation, Paul Schluter the former Danish prime minister, Uffe Ellemann Jensen, the Danish Liberal leader, Ruud Lubbers, the Dutch Prime Minister, Hans Van Den Broek, the Dutch Commissioner for foreign affairs and Pedro Solbes, Spain's Finance Minister.

Denmark and the Netherlands traditionally have been allies of the British in the EU. A further attraction of the two Danish candidates, canvassed by their supporters, would be that the choice of a Scandinavian President could help to swing a 'yes' vote in the forthcoming referendums on EU membership in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

It is possible the final name will not be one on the list being discussed in London. It does not include Peter Sutherland, former Irish Commissioner and the successful Director General of Gatt. Although Mr Sutherland would find favour with the British, officials in London fear that fact alone may have damaged his chances. He is not seen in London as a front runner, partly because of French opposition.

In Bonn, where German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met Mr Delors and the 16 other EU Commissioners yesterday to present the priorities of the six-month German presidency, the Chancellor refused to name names. But he was happy to knock down press rumours suggesting that the favoured choice was the Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.

'Felipe Gonzalez has left no doubt that he is not available for this post. It was in the newspapers, but that doesn't mean it's right,' he said.

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, winds up his tour of foreign capitals this week, but there is likely to be some hard talking between France, Germany, Italy and the UK on the margins of the Group of Seven meeting in Naples this weekend. Mr Kohl ruled out the option of Jacques Delors staying on in the position he fashioned into one of the most powerful in Europe: 'I don't think its likely,' he said.