October 31, 2009 2:00 am
David Miliband may be "young and brilliant" - according to a Le Monde editorial this week - but there is another reason why many in Brussels are talking about the British foreign secretary as a future EU foreign policy chief: there is not much competition.
Socialist leaders in Europe - a severely depleted group after recent electoral reverses - have set their sights on securing the new foreign policy post, but seem to be struggling to draw up a solid shortlist.
Out the six potential runners, Mr Miliband is seen as the most credible. The pro-European, 44, with strong environmental credentials, has impressed European Union colleagues during his two years in the job.
Other candidates include Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former German foreign minister whose party has just been heavily defeated by Angela Merkel, and Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain's foreign minister.
While Mr Steinmeier is a serious player, his chances seem poor because Germany has already filled its one seat in the next European Commission.
Mr Moratinos may suffer from being an Iberian - José Manuel Barroso, Commission president, is from Portugal while Javier Solana, the current EU foreign policy head, is Spanish.
The other three candidates are Elisabeth Guigou, a French EU affairs minister in the early 1990s, Alfred Gusenbauer, former Austrian chancellor whose government collapsed in chaos, and Adrian Severin, a former Romanian foreign minister who claims to be the recipient of a little-known "man of the 20th century" award.
Mr Miliband, a protégé of Tony Blair, yesterday stuck to the carefully crafted formula: "I'm not available. I'm not a candidate."
But if Mr Blair does fall by the wayside, Mr Miliband would be a strong runner. As a Commission vice-president, he might also be in a position to shape the EU's economic agenda, although foreign travel could make that difficult.
But it is far from clear whether Mr Miliband, still ambitious to lead the Labour party, would choose to go to Brussels, especially as a leadership contest could happen within months if Gordon Brown loses the next UK election.
However, the prospect of a five-year stint potentially acquiring global gravitas might help him if he chose to return at a later date - especially if he calculated that the Labour party might be out of office for two terms. It worked for Lord Mandelson.
David Cameron, Tory opposition leader, has urged EU leaders to block Mr Blair but would not necessarily oppose Mr Miliband. But the Tories intensified their calls for Mr Miliband to retract his attacks on Michal Kaminski, leader of the Polish Law and Justice party and one of their main European allies, over suggestions he was "antisemitic".
Mr Brown appears to have deliberately left open the possibility that Mr Miliband could emerge as an alternative to Mr Blair as Britain's top EU representative. The prime minister has not yet decided whether to renominate Cathy Ashton, the UK's existing European commissioner.
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