Helsinki Summit: And another thing...we don't like the idea of this man for the IMF

WITH WAR raging in Chechnya, Britain and France at loggerheads over beef and a tax dispute also racking the European Union, heads of government found another issue to row about: Europe's candidate for a top international job.

Over lunch of lime-marinated salmon, lamb and plum and cream cake, the leaders of the EU's most powerful states found time for some discordant horsetrading. The wine was flowing but not the goodwill. When the question of an EU candidate to succeed the IMF managing director, Michel Camdessus, was raised, there was little meeting of minds.

Berlin said its deputy finance minister, Caio Koch-Weser, was the sole candidate.But British officials differed. "It is not correct there is an endorsed EU candidate," they said, despite the fact that Mr Koch- Weser is said to be a friend of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Earlier, agreement appeared to have emerged among finance ministers: the Austrian, Rudolf Edlinger, said no objections were raised to Mr Koch- Weser. The job is normally held by a European, and any EU candidate would have to be agreed with the United States and other IMF members.

According to a neutral country, both versions of the dispute had some basis in truth. No official candidate had been agreed on, although Mr Koch-Weser was the only prominent one circulated.

Britain, while anxious not to escalate this into a substantial row, is also in no mood to be bounced into supporting the German candidate. London has no official candidate and has not declared its hand.

But there is a long list of potential candidates. The successor to Mr Camdessus is to be selected by the IMF's executive board by mid-February. Early unofficial candidates included three Britons: Andrew Crockett, head of the Bank of International Settlements; Mervyn King, Bank of England deputy governor; and Nigel Wicks, a Treasury official.

Italy has suggested its treasury director, Mario Draghi. Another German being mentioned is Horst Kohler, head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Disputes such as the IMF one are standard fare for a European summit lunch - at least there was no beef on the menu.