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Miliband's star shines in EU race

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s chances of becoming the European Union’s foreign policy chief are improving, and Italian Massimo D’Alema’s hopes are fading because of opposition in eastern Europe.

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The EU is expected to call a summit this month to appoint a high representative for foreign affairs with enhanced powers and a long-term president, following ratification this week of the Lisbon treaty which outlines the terms for both jobs.

“For high representative, the name of David Miliband is the most quoted name in the diplomatic circle,” a senior EU diplomat, who declined to be identified, told reporters.

He said D’Alema, a former premier backed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, faced opposition from member states that were once in the Soviet bloc because of his communist past.

“It would be a problem,” the diplomat told reporters. “For the first term of high representative, it would be better to have a person whose authority could not be contested because of his past party affiliations.”

D’Alema, 60, is a member of Italy’s main opposition party, the centre-left Democratic Party.

He joined the Italian Communist Party in 1968 and became a member of its central committee in 1979. He was also editor of the communist newspaper L’Unità in the 1980s.


The senior EU diplomat said D’Alema had failed to win any backing at an EU summit last week to take over as high representative from Spain’s Javier Solana.

“I didn’t register any support during the past council for D’Alema,” he said.

Possible candidates for the foreign policy chief job also include EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and former Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

Miliband’s chances have risen since former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s prospects of becoming president receded last week -- member states have ruled out one country holding both positions at once.

Miliband, 44, has been campaigning for the EU to boost its international role, but says he is not available to become foreign policy chief and that he is not a candidate.

Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende are among possible candidates to become president of the Council of EU leaders.

“We hear (Lithuanian President) Dalia Grybauskaite mentioned as a possible candidate,” said the diplomat. “(Luxembourg Prime Minister) Jean-Claude Juncker would also be a very good candidate. He’s the most experienced.”

“It’s always a difficult game. If you serve too long a time in the circle, you risk having enemies. Herman Van Rompuy is a new face in the circle, and he hasn’t had a chance to get into a conflicting situation. The person who wins is the one who has the lowest negative electorate.”

Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni in Rome; editing by Tim Pearce