The dozen or so other candidates that have been mentioned on the grapevine are not serious possibilities, the sources said. Felipe Gonzalez, the Spanish Prime Minister, has made it clear that he is not interested; the British have apparently indicated that Wilfried Martens, the former Belgian prime minister, was even less acceptable than Jean-Luc Dehaene, whose appoinment as European Commission President Britain blocked last weekend in Corfu.
Mr Sutherland, head of the Gatt world trade body, became an even stronger possibility earlier this week, sources said, when the Irish government weakened its resistance to him being fielded as a compromise candidate. As for Mr Delors staying on an extra year, all depends on the seriousness of his interest in running for president of France next spring.
Mr Sutherland would be a problem for President Francois Mitterrand, who considers him a 'surrogate Briton'. His objections to Mr Sutherland's candidacy could be considered of the same magnitude as those of Britain to Mr Dehaene's federalist leanings.
However, it emerges that the non-Socialist ministers of the French government are not as vehemently opposed to Mr Sutherland as is the Socialist President. The French resistance to Mr Sutherland may in part be fuelled by Mr Delors himself (who had a number of clashes with the Irishman when he was a member of the EU Commission).
Since Mr Delors could emerge as his main rival for the presidency of France, Edouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, might adopt the opposite view and welcome a Sutherland candidacy. A French opinion poll yesterday showed Mr Balladur and Mr Delors running neck-and-neck in popularity standings, with 54 per cent of voters wanting to see Mr Balladur play an important role, against 53 per cent for Mr Delors.
The uncertainty now is how much Mr Mitterrand digs in his heels to block Mr Sutherland. 'In the day-to-day running of foreign policy, it is true that Mitterrand is left out,' said one source. 'But on such a huge point, such a huge problem, I don't know if he can (be).' A German source added: 'We want a solution that presents no difficulty with the French.'
The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, was in London yesterday for scheduled talks with John Major and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary. The British Government has sought to persuade Mr Kohl to appoint an envoy to shuttle among the other 11 member-states to bring consensus before the emergency summit on 15 July.
But a German official said it was unlikely that Mr Kohl - who himself faces an election this autumn - would initiate any shuttle diplomacy. 'He does not want to show the public how difficult the issue is. He wants to make every decision behind the curtains. They can do the negotiations by telephone.' Mr Kinkel and Mr Major agreed in yesterday's meeting that the Prime Minister and Mr Kohl would discuss the issue over the telephone in the next few days. Mr Kinkel said the mood of his discussions 'offered some ground for hope'. Mr Hurd said 'it should be possible within these coming two weeks to reach an agreed conclusion'.
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