European Union Summit: Union ponders Delors' successor

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The Independent Online
THE CORFU summit in effect began last night with a banquet in honour of Boris Yeltsin. But the real beef has been held back from the menu until tomorrow night when the 12 EU heads of government will, at dinner, chew over the contentious problem of Jacques Delors' successor.

Two of the candidates, Jean-Luc Dehaene, of Belgium, and Ruud Lubbers from the Netherlands, will be present at the dinner in their capacity as heads of government - adding spice to the debate. The other declared candidate, Sir Leon Brittan, as Britain's senior Commissioner, will be on the island, but not seated at the table.

Running through the rest of the two days will be one general theme - the future construction of Europe as the Union gears up to revise the Maastricht treaty in 1996. The views of Italy, in particular, will be keenly listened to, for the new government has given its opinions on very little; it is the first big European outing for the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

John Major will hold a breakfast meeting today in Corfu with Mr Berlusconi. The meeting will lay the ground for the decision at a dinner of the heads of government about the replacement for Mr Delors. Mr Major will be seeking the Italians' support for delaying the decision in the hope of stalling the endorsement of Mr Deheane, who is willing to give up national power for the EU post.

Mr Major is publicly backing Sir Leon but his chances are slim; most other delegates cannot imagine handing over one of the most powerful jobs in Europe to a UK national. Compromise candidates, notably the Gatt negotiator, Peter Sutherland, hover in the wings.

'We must press for a clear outcome, or people will think the European Council is incapable of taking important decisions,' said the Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, yesterday. A decision is unlikely, leaving the Germans to resolve the issue later, unless Mr Lubbers can be persuaded to stand down.

Watching this process keenly will be Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway - in town for formal signing of their accession to the EU. After the overwhelming 'yes' in Austria's referendum, Vienna is now certain to become the 13th member state in January next year; Finland, Sweden and Norway have yet to vote.

For Boris Yeltsin, full accession is a long-term ambition; he is happy enough to be signing a partnership agreement that offers Russia beneficial trading terms with the EU and holds out the promise of eventual membership of the Union.

For 340 million citizens of the European Union, the most important agenda item will be the continuing debate on job creation - how to breathe life into Commission proposals put forward at the last summit and, in particular, how to bridge the funding gap that is holding up action on 11 big infrastructure projects, including the Channel tunnel rail link.

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