BRUSSELS: Current UK foreign secretary has emerged as a contender for the EU's top foreign affairs job while the chances of Tony Blair becoming EU president seem to be receding The UK's current foreign secretary, David Miliband, is emerging as a potential candidate to become Europe's first foreign minister as officials and observers in Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Scandinavia increasingly talk up his credentials for the job.
The official post of "high representative" is one of the key innovations of the Lisbon treaty, which is on the brink of ratification and is aimed at streamlining the way the EU works and increasing Europe's clout in the world. A decision on the job is expected within weeks.
Miliband is to deliver what is being billed as a keynote speech on his vision of European foreign policy under the Lisbon regime in London on Monday. He has recently focused on Europe lambasting the British Opposition Conservative party for its decision to break with the mainstream centre-right in Europe and form a Eurosceptic alliance with east European rightwingers.
A Scandinavian cabinet minister told friends this week that Miliband "is in the frame" to become the EU foreign policy chief.
Other names being mentioned for the post - which is for a minimum of five years - include Olli Rehn, Finland's European commissioner, and two women, Ursula Plassnik and Dora Bakoyannis, former foreign ministers of Austria and Greece.
The job is potentially more powerful than the post of European president, also created under the Lisbon treaty. "The president could end up being all prestige and no power, while the high representative is real power and little prestige," said Simon Hix, professor of European politics at the London School of Economics.
Yesterday ambassadors from all EU states met behind closed doors in Brussels to discuss who should become the union's president, and what the role, function and powers of the job should be.
For weeks Brussels has been awash with rumour, whispers and innuendo over who will land the EU's top job. Remarkably, for a post that has been eight years in the making, all but the barest of details remain unclear.
There is no open contest for the job; no official contenders; no public campaign. The powers are undefined, the job description is sketchy. Issues of budgets, staffing, offices and division of powers among other top EU posts have not been resolved. And there is no national or European conversation between leaders and voters over who should be president.
Europe's leaders ritually declare that the Lisbon treaty will make the EU more democratic, more open, and more accountable, but the clandestine manoeuvring over the job makes a papal conclave look like an exercise in transparency. "It's appaling. It's like choosing a pope," said Hix.
Blair is the leading contender for president, but is also seen to be over-exposed and his chances appear to be receding. A Stop Blair petition has been launched by German MEPs, while Liberal MEPs yesterday demanded a more open debate.
"We're in a rather opaque period," said Andrew Duff, the leading Liberal Democrat MEP and European federalist. "But that's how things are here. I don't think it's undemocratic. In the end he will be appointed by 27 prime ministers or presidents. That's quite democratic." The job itself is president of the European council of EU government chiefs, who attend summits at least four times a year and determine policy. Rather than the current six-month presidency rotated among member states running these summits, the new sitting president will organise and chair the meetings, then report on them to the EU parliament. What he or she will do at other times is a mystery. The person will not have a vote at EU summits.
The president is appointed for a 30-month term, renewable once. The idea is to streamline and simplify the way the EU is run and make it more consistent and coherent towards the rest of the world. "Fredrik Reinfeldt [the Swedish prime minister and current EU president] is the fourth European council president I'm working with this year," Barroso complained.
"Show me any institution in the world - a football club or a university - that changes its president four times a year." The current negotiations among ambassadors will boil down to deciding how much clout the new president should wield.
A number of countries prefer a weaker rather than a stronger role. "People are discovering that the job is not the kind that would suit Blair," said Duff. "I'm not sure it will have the glamour that Blair would bring to the post." Other sources say European leaders may opt for a factotum, rather than a dynamic leader who may overshadow them. "They don't want rivals," said Hix.