Inside File: Of horse trading in Corfu

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The Independent Online
THE cover story of yesterday's Bild Zeitung portrayed Manfred Worner, the head of Nato, in better health than people might imagine. The Secretary-General's decision to grant an interview to Germany's mass-circulation daily was a clear signal intended to defy predictions of early retirement due to ill health. Mr Worner, who said he had gained 18lb, was indicating that his job is not necessarily up for grabs in the great marchandage of positions at play in Europe.

The idea is that for the Franco-German axis to get in their federalist, Jean-Luc Dehaene, as President of the Commission, trade-offs will have to be made to give other member-states the top jobs in Nato, OECD and Gatt. Britain and the Netherlands, having advocated Sir Leon Brittan and Ruud Lubbers respectively, could be expected to produce a deadlock at the European Union's summit in Corfu this weekend and let the issue drag on till the autumn. Some of the states who do not want to join the fight on either side, such as Italy and Spain, have said an inconclusive outcome might not be a bad thing.

But as one envoy of Germany, which assumes the EU presidency next week, put it: 'We need a decision at Corfu. We don't want a presidency with this discussion going on all the time.' German diplomats point out that the choice of Mr Dehaene was made at the request of French, with whom they are co-ordinating their consecutive presidencies for the next 12 months.

'The British understood already very early that Leon Brittan was not going to get it,' said one envoy of the Franco-German camp. 'As for Lubbers, he is someone who is a very individual person. No one is able to control him, or to know what he is up to. Dehaene is the prototype of the sort of man who wants a deepening of Europe.'

Frans Andriessen, the Dutch former commissioner, said last week that 'there will be a lot of bad blood in the Netherlands' if Mr Dehaene wins over Mr Lubbers. 'The Netherlands has recently missed quite a few prizes,' he argued. 'People are going to ask 'what's wrong with us that we keep being passed over?' Then there will be a political problem.'

A leading candidate for the next Secretary-General of Nato is, as it happens, Hans van den Broek of the Netherlands. But Chancellor Helmut Kohl would never countenance openly bringing into the horse-trading the job now held by his compatriot, Mr Worner. Mr Kohl might, at most, suggest that when the time comes he would leave it to the Dutch to fill the job.

If the British and Dutch persist in blocking Mr Dehaene, the Irish may finally be called upon to back their countryman Peter Sutherland openly, even though he is in Dublin's eyes of the wrong political party. But, diplomats say, Mr Sutherland no longer qualifies as the dark horse nobody saw coming; it has been assumed for almost too long that he would emerge as the compromise solution. 'It's like running a 5,000-metre race. You don't win if you start running too early.'

Every time the Franco-German axis rears its head, Britain tends to run to Rome for support. But nobody expects a consistent stance from Italian governments in general, nor Mr Berlusconi's in particular; Mr Hurd's officials privately admit that. Besides, Chancellor Kohl has already had a summit with Mr Berlusconi in which the latter pledged his desire to work closely with Germany. A newer tendency is for Britain to bid for help from Spain; several delegations have visited Madrid in the past few weeks. But Mr Kohl has also had a recent summit with Felipe Gonzalez, in which the latter pledged to work closely with Germany and France (Spain's presidency follows immediately upon theirs).

And so it looks like Sir Leon will have to settle for Gatt or the OECD. It could be worse. As one European official put it: 'The OECD? It's the best of all those jobs. You have very little to do, a lot of people working for you, all that money, and you get to travel around the world.'