Saturday, May 01, 2004

Patten for president?

According to the Financial Times, Christopher Patten has emerged as a surprise contender for the post of European Commission president. He appears to have been persuaded to stand by Prodi.

Furthermore, he seems to have the support of Giscard d'Estaing, who states "He has the talent, the beliefs and political position to be a good president." Giscard discussed the candidature with Blair during his mysterious visit to Downing Street last Thursday.

The candidature also met with the approval of Hans-Gert Pöttering, German leader of the European People's party – the Conservative MEP’s political home in Brussels. He said: "Chris Patten is a very important person, who undoubtedly could do the job."

There will now be informal discussions in Dublin today, amongst the 25 leaders of the now enlarged EU, who are assembling for a celebratory dinner. If Patten surmounts that hurdle, his name will be put formally to the European Council in June, so that he can then present himself to the European Parliament for approval, prior to taking office in October when Prodi steps down.

Patten is known to oppose the UK referendum on the constitution and he could therefore become a strong ally for Blair in the forthcoming campaign. Last week, also, he gave a detailed speech on the future role of the European Commission, which almost read like a manifesto. He set out a 10-point plan for reforming the EU executive, the traditional engine of European integration.

"I want a strong Commission, able to manage independently policies that are sometimes - necessarily - uncomfortable," he said. The Commission should be organised into small teams, should focus on results that EU citizens understand, and should pull out of failed policies.

So far, there has been a singular dearth of credible candidates for the post. The leading centre-right candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, has ruled himself out, while social democrats Paavo Lipponen of Finland and Portugal's Antonio Vitorino would not win the backing of a conservative-led parliament. Apart from Patten, no other prominent name has emerged.

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