Fishy plan for French No

Could Reykjavik provide the European Union with its much wanted Plan B? Eurocrats are desperate for a strategy should France reject the constitution.

One suggestion is that some of the most important steps - such as giving Germany more voting powers - could be smuggled into an "accession treaty" the next time the EU enlarges.

The problem is that the EU's expansion has ground to a halt. Treaties with Bulgaria and Romania are signed on April 25, ahead of France's May 29 referendum - and, after that, Croatia isn't likely to join until 2009 at the earliest.

So step forward Iceland. The mid-Atlantic isle has hung back from joining the EU until now, because of the cost of giving up fishing rights.

But Reykjavik has started thinking seriously about membership and a delegation is expected to meet EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn in a few weeks.

The affluent island wouldn't be a problem for the EU to absorb, particularly when compared with aspirants such as Albania and Bosnia.

But would Reykjavik be ready to take the plunge? Maybe, if the island spells the end to the EU's constitutional headache, Brussels would make it an offer it couldn't refuse. Those Icelandic fish could be safe for a while yet.

Brick Wall

There is also frantic discussion of a Plan B in Sweden. With the popularity of Göran Persson, the long-serving Social Democratic prime minister, continuing to plummet, panic is spreading among the faithful over the prospects of defeat in next year's general election.

As a result the name of Margot Wallström, vice-president of the European Commission, is once again being murmured as the party's saviour.

According to the theory, Persson, who is barely on speaking terms with Wallström, would step down this autumn to give her a year to turn things around.

On Monday, however, Wallström moved to derail the bandwagon, writing an article in the SDP-friendly Aftonbladet stating she was not a candidate for party leader, especially as she has such an important role in Brussels.

There, some had thought she had already returned to Sweden. "She's simply disappeared," said one Brussels insider searching for the Commission's self-styled "Mrs PR" on Monday.

Fed votes

As the French referendum draws closer Observer casts its mind back to the knife-edge Maastricht vote in 1992. There is an interesting passage in the memoirs of former British finance minister Lord Lamont, who presided over Britain's chaotic forced withdrawal from the European exchange rate mechanism.

The eurosceptic Lamont, who avoided signing the Maastricht treaty that laid the foundations of the euro, writes in In Office that he watched the results come in at the White House with Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan among other bankers and finance ministers.

"He had done some detailed calculations and was quite convinced that the final result would be No. However, as the figures swung towards the smallest possible Yes to Maastricht he became quite suspicious."

The final result was 51 to 49 in favour. "There were a lot of late votes from the overseas territories that increased the margin," says Observer's man at Quai d'Orsay.

The good Europeans of Guadeloupe may just swing it again this time. Whatever, Observer won't be asking Greenspan to forecast.

Silent Simeon

As the prime minister who managed to secure a place for Bulgaria in Nato and the EU, you'd think that Simeon Saxe-Coburg would be running proudly for parliament at the head of the party he founded, the eponymous Movement for Simeon.

But he's staying behind the scenes, just as he did four years ago. Does this mean Saxe-Coburg, who in childhood was briefly Bulgaria's king, wants to get out of politics?

After all, he's talked about becoming an organic farmer on one of the royal estates that were handed back to his family. But Bulgarian observers say he's likely to stick around. Though Simeon's party lags behind the Socialists in opinion polls, it's still set to finish in second place and be a willing coalition partner.

So if the prime minister's job went to a Socialist, Saxe-Coburg would be able to take over as (non-executive) president when Georgi Parvanov, the Socialist incumbent, stands down next year. The attraction of becoming head of state again may be stronger than that of head of an estate.

Piped music

Werner Seifert is not in the mood for compromise. On Monday, the Deutsche Börse's pipe-sucking chief executive sent his second open letter in less than a fortnight to Christopher Hohn of The Children's Investment Fund, the Börse shareholder who scuppered his hopes of acquiring the London Stock Exchange, and who looks like he has a chance of ousting supervisory board chairman Rolf Breuer at next month's shareholder meeting.

Seifert's preferred way of letting off steam, of course, is playing jazz with his Hammond organ. On Sunday night, his Jazz-X-Change sextet, which also features August Wilhelm Scheer, founder of software company IDS Scheer, hit the dizzy heights of the Jazzkeller, one of Frankfurt's most revered venues. It has hosted a Who's Who of jazz in the past five decades.

Plans for a CD are in the pipeline. Is he building up an alternative career, in case the TCI manages to claim his scalp too?

Nouveau riche

An interesting parallel between the two members of the European Commission facing questions over their holidays with rich friends strikes Observer. One, José Manuel Barroso, is a former Maoist, the other, Peter Mandelson, a former communist.

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