Verhofstadt ‘out of race’ to replace Prodi
18 June 2004
BRUSSELS – Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s ambition to become the next president of the European Union Commission was clearly scuppered Friday when he was described as “out of the race” by British Foreign Secretray Jack Straw.
Verhofstadt, 51, the choice of Germany and France to replace current president Romanoi Prodi when he steps down in September, “has neither the backing of the United Kingdom nor a certain number of other member states” declared Straw in an interview with the BBC on Friday.
The failure since Thursday to reach a consensus on a replacement for Prodi meant the 25 EU leaders may have to continue their summit way over time and into the weekend to reach agreement on both the Commission leader and the new constitution.
The summit has been marked by fierce disputes over both issues between French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Verhofstadt was favoured by Germany and France above all for his federalist views on European integration and tax harmonisation, the same reasons which have lost him support by the UK.
Straw on Friday said London backed Chris Patten, currently EU commissioner in charge of European Commission External Relations and a former British Conservative cabinet minister.
“I personally like the idea [of Mr Patten] a great deal” Straw told BBC radio. “I have got huge admiration for Chris. He has done a really, really good job as a commissioner … I personally think he would be very good.”
UK officials insisted Friday that Mr Patten was not an official UK candidate for the EC presidency, but the choice of the centre-right European People’s party.
Verhostadt, who suffered an electoral trouncing earlier this year in Belgian regional elections, has previously alienated the UK, Italy and Poland – all three part of the US-led coalition in Iraq – when he set up a mini-summit on European defence last year, together with the other opponents of the war, notably France and Germany.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news