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‘Consensus’ around Belgian PM for top EU job: diplomats

Brussels — "There is a consensus around his name, which is rare among the 27" EU nations, said one European diplomat. "No-one is opposed to him and many (leaders) are asking him to accept."

A second source echoed that stance, saying "no-one else can get unanimity" following informal discussions between EU heads of government and state at a two-day summit in Brussels last week.

Centre-right van Rompuy’s spokesman Dirk De Backer issued a straight "no comment" when contacted by AFP on Monday.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at the summit’s end on Friday that France and Germany will join forces to choose Europe’s first full-time president, after sweeping Tony Blair towards the Brussels exit.

Sarkozy said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to back "the same candidate," adding that the pair shared the same "vision" for two new top jobs to be created under the Lisbon Treaty, and their favoured runners.

Van Rompuy, 62, is "not a candidate, but he is the favourite," wrote Belgian daily De Standaard on Monday, adding that he could be "the most acceptable (name) under a Franco-German ‘deal’."

The Swedish EU presidency will formally open consultations on nominations as soon the Czech president signs the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty.

A Czech court ruling due on Tuesday is expected to pave the way after EU leaders agreed to grant Prague an exemption from a rights charter tied to the treaty.

Sarkozy said the successful candidate would need to be both "charismatic" and a "consensus-builder," hinting at Blair’s star falling by saying: "The names in the first wave are not necessarily the winners."

A debate over personalities has focused on whether the EU wants a big name such as Blair for the international stage or an internal manager working alongside the bloc’s key drivers in Merkel and Sarkozy.

Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende has said he is not a candidate, with his European affairs minister underlining that the Dutch government would not propose him as one.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads a powerful grouping of 16 countries that use the euro currency, had expressed his interest in running.

However, diplomats have said his stance was designed to crystallise opposition to Blair — and that Sarkozy still blames him for reacting sluggishly to the financial crisis of 2008.

Female former Latvian head of state Vaira Vike-Freiberga and ex-Irish leader John Bruton are declared runners in a race which is due to be resolved at a special mid-November summit.

According to the EU’s Swedish presidency, a precise date cannot be set until the Czech court rules, but leaders "are ready to convene at short notice" to agree on jobs long-delayed thanks to the headache of Lisbon ratification in Ireland and elsewhere.

Top Irish bookmakers Paddy Power slashed Van Rompuy’s odds from 16-1 to 3-1 mid-Monday, just behind Balkenende and Blair.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, while publicly ruling himself out, is said to be vying with Sweden’s Carl Bildt for the second job, a beefed-up EU foreign policy supremo with a huge diplomatic network and budget.

Christian Spillmann/AFP/Expatica