The idea springs from a set of new proposals on Cyprus known as the 'Ghali ideas'. Since Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, often complains of being overloaded, a stand-in has been suggested. Two names are being floated privately: Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who resigned last April after 18 years as German foreign minister; and Lord Howe, Britain's former foreign secretary.
Lord Howe would probably be a popular choice with most of the parties. The newly elected Cypriot government of Glafcos Clerides has quietly expressed itself flattered at the thought of a British grandee; the Turks, recalling the warm relationship between President Turgut Ozal and Margaret Thatcher, would be delighted to see one of her former ministers in the job.
At 62, Lord Howe is probably something of a wasted talent with time on his hands (his most important international commitment appears to be membership of an advisory body to the President of Ukraine). Described as 'a sheep in sheep's clothing who can have sharp teeth when he needs them', he would have the degree of patience required to shuttle between the parties without raising unnecessary hackles.
The problem is that Britain may already have had its share of international appointments for retired foreign secretaries and the like, most recently in Lord Carrington and Lord Owen. Germany, on the other hand, has practically none, apart from the Nato Secretary-General, Manfred Worner.
As Germany seeks to raise its internationalist profile, this will clearly not do. Every now and then Klaus Kinkel, Mr Genscher's successor, reiterates that Germany will seek a permanent seat on the UN Security Council when the time comes to change its composition. Mr Genscher, who has a heart problem, is a favourite to be Germany's next president, but has said he does not want to run for the job. Yet he was the world's longest-serving foreign minister, and is now by far Germany's leading candidate to assume any troubleshooting mission and thus set the scene for a more daring German diplomacy in future.
The problem here is that Mr Genscher would be anything but acceptable to one of the parties involved: the Turks. They accuse him of poisoning the EC against their membership application, and of blocking German military aid after Turkish raids into Iraq against PKK Kurdish guerrillas. They accuse Germany of being the main base for PKK attacks 'against Turkish territorial integrity'. A year ago this week, Mr Genscher cancelled a trip to Turkey. The head of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce threatened to turn in his BMW to the German consulate. Mr Ozal said: 'What Genscher did is just for internal politics . . . Germany has changed a lot after reunification. They are trying to interfere eveywhere, to show themselves as a great force. Europe probably knows about this. In times past, Hitler's Germany also did this, of course by other means. Modern Germany is not trying to use these means but by misusing economic means.'
It is well known that Chancellor Helmut Kohl, far from harbouring expansionist aims, has based his entire foreign policy on building a Europe that will bind and constrain his country. He is said to favour not a German but an EC seat on the Security Council. But his Foreign Minister, of a younger generation, has said this would be unrealistic, and declared a few weeks ago: 'The United States says Germany should be on the Security Council, but there are still two countries that are opposed - Britain and France.'
Mr Kinkel is clearly planning for the future here. Every year the German Foreign Ministry sends about 80 trainees on an intensive language-training retreat in the southern Rhone valley, near Montelimar. One of the setpieces of the course is instruction in how to set out a diplomatic brief in French. In their latest test, the students were required to argue the German case for permanent membership of the Security Council.